Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in the nation, brings along a special perk. All the awardees can avail of free lifetime air travel on Air India flights and that too in the highest class.
Notably, 48 people have so far been awarded the Bharat Ratna with 14 of them receiving the award posthumously. Out of 34 people receiving the award during their lifetime, only four Bharat Ratna awardees are still alive --Prof Amartya Sen (1999), Lata Mangeshkar (2001), Sachin Tendulkar (2014) and Professor C N R Rao (2014).
News outlet India Today, filed a Right to Information (RTI) request with Air India to “know when the central government decided to grant this perk to Bharat Ratna recipients, how many times this has been availed by the recipients and what is the monetary value of the perks availed.” They also inquired about the number of times Nobel laureate and Bharat Ratna awardee Amartya Sen had utilised the said perk.
In response to the first query, Air India revealed: "...the procedure for issuance of free tickets to Bharat Ratna awardees was circulated by erstwhile Indian Airlines on 25/08/2003."
Stating the rationale behind the move, Air India added, “The above decision has been taken as a mark of respect to the esteemed personalities for their highly acclaimed contribution in their respective fields. It is therefore, our endeavour to provide all assistance in facilitating their travel requirements."
On the query regarding Amartya Sen, the RTI response revealed that availing this facility, the Nobel laureate flew 21 times from 2015 till 2019. The airlines further clarified that the monetary value of his travels could not be ascertained as the "fare prevailing on time and date of travel is not stored”.
Air India further added that Sen was the only Bharat Ratna recipient who has availed the benefit of this scheme.