As the government charts out Air India’s disinvestment, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said he would not like the national carrier to “go the Kingfisher way” and people losing jobs. Air India, which is surviving on taxpayers’ money, has been in the red for long but managed to eke out an operational profit of Rs 105 crore in 2015-16. A group of ministers, where Raju is also a member, is looking at the modalities for disinvestment of the national airline.
Noting that Air India has really worked well in the past few years, he said the whole idea of privatisation is to have a vibrant airline. “We don’t set timelines. We have some indications within us and we hope that we will stick to it,” Raju said in reply to a query about tentative timeline for the disinvestment.
On whether Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) would be offered to Air India employees, he said personally he would like the airline to be vibrant and “not go the Kingfisher way or something like everybody has gone home and nobody has employment”.
Bogged down by financial woes, Vijay Mallya-promoted Kingfisher Airlines went belly up in 2012.”I had already interacted with the press and what did I say, if you can find me a ‘bakra’ (scapegoat) who is willing to give me Rs 50,000 or 60,000 crore… I am not searching for bakras but actually I am searching for proper investors and proper investors means a reasonably decent balance sheet,” Raju said.
His remarks came in response to a question on whether Air India’s debt would be waived off. The carrier has a debt burden of more than Rs 50,000 crore. To a query about the government recently deciding to withdraw certain privileges extended to RJD chief and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, the minister did not provide a direct reply, saying anything has to have a reasoning.
Last month, the government withdrew the tarmac access given to the vehicle of Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi at Patna airport. “Anything has to have a reasoning. Now what is the reasoning… At the time of independence we had a privileged class with privileges. Today, we don’t have that.
“… Now for instance as civil aviation minister, I am not checked in India because nobody in India believes that the civil aviation minister is a threat to the civil aviation sector… that resulted in a very unusual thing of me having a matchbox in my pocket,” Raju quipped. Asked about the preparations for the upcoming audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) later this year, Raju said it is going on. “We are hoping that we will come out with flying colours. We need to keep our rating high and in fact second to none in the world,” he said.