The case has been referred to CBI after a discreet probe launched by the Vigilance department of the public carrier unearthed a scam in its Family Fare Scheme (FFS) in which the cash-strapped airline was defrauded, sources said today.
The help of CBI for further probe was sought by the Vigilance department since the case had all India ramifications, the sources added.
Under the FFS, concession is given to employees of the airline in which they can take their family to a domestic destination once a year at subsidised cost.
Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) of Air India B K Maurya confirmed to PTI that one suspect travel agency had been identified during their initial probe who alone was allegedly responsible for an estimated loss of over Rs six crore to the airline due to the alleged fraud in the FSS.
"We have referred the matter to CBI. It is suspected that many more travel agencies could be involved in this case causing direct loss of crores of rupees to AI," he said.
The AI spokesman did not immediately respond to phone calls and messages sent to his mobile. The AI has asked the CBI to take up a probe as "the case has all India ramifications with possible loss caused to the government and AI with possible involvement of other governmental and non-governmental agencies."
A CBI official said that according to an internal probe of the Air India's Vigilance team, which had looked into the records from 2007, had found that in one particular sector alone the alleged fraud under the FFS involved 5,916 tickets.
The probe report said the travel operator "indulged in fraudulently altering the fare on flown coupons to higher amount than the fare shown on the audit coupons and thus presumably keeping the excess amount which is difference of fare as per flight coupons and the audit coupons."
The Vigilance probe also found that a mandatory rule of mentioning that 'all family members travel together' was not found printed in a number of tickets issued under FSS which has to be mandatorily stamped so that the scheme is not misused.
Sources said the alleged fraudsters, which AI suspects could also involve its staff, separated the passenger and AI redemption coupons by writing two different fares aimed at claiming more money from the airline.
The flag carrier has asked the CBI to take up the case as it suspects the scam has pan-India ramifications with many more such travel agents and the fraud estimates could be as high as Rs 15-20 crore over a period of time.
The preliminary in-house enquiry conducted by the Vigilance department found out that the fraud was largely carried out on the Chennai-Port Blair and Kolkata-Port Blair sector and this caused a loss of Rs 2.70 crore to the AI but the overall loss to the exchequer was over Rs six crore.
The Vigilance department of the airline had detected a similar fraud in the Leave Travel Concession (LTC) scheme and the CBI is currently probing the case.