Even as state-owned airlines Air India has failed to attract buyers so far, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri Tuesday said the government is not a “slave to deadlines”, clarifying, however, that there are “no two views that privatisation (of the airlines) has to be done.”
Addressing a press conference, Puri said that while his ministry is the nodal ministry for aviation, he was not in charge of disinvestment. “Air India is a first-class airline, but there are no two views that privatisation has to be done. We are not slaves of certain deadlines; we are trying to do it (disinvestment) as quickly as possible,” news agency PTI quoted him as saying.
The strategic divestment of Air India has been a cause of concern for the government. Last year, the government tried to sell a 76 per cent stake in the airline without any success.
Puri today said that his ministry will try to issue an expression of interest for Air India in the coming few weeks. A group of officials, including Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, have already met several times to finalising the EoI to sell the airline.
While acknowledging the issue of predatory pricing in airlines, Puri warned that if it continues, other airlines may have to shut down.
The union minister said while the ministry had no plans of regulating fares, it has to happen within parameters of deregulation. “We need to bring equilibrium within the market. Can’t say predatory pricing is the only reason for ill health of airlines, it is one of the reasons. After discussion with airlines, the trend of predatory pricing has reduced. Our advice to airlines is to charge realistic fares,” he said.
With a debt burden of Rs 58,000 crore, the government is still working on the modalities for the disinvestment of the airline. Earlier in the day, a senior airline official said that the airlines might be forced to shut down by June next year unless it finds a buyer as “piecemeal” arrangements cannot be sustained for long.
As per the government, it has infused funds to the tune of Rs 30,520.21 crore in the flag carrier from the financial year 2011-12 till December this year. Under the turnaround plan approved by the UPA regime in 2012, the airline was to get financial assistance of Rs 30,000 crore over a 10-year period. Last month, Puri had warned that the airline will have to shut down and stop operations if it is not privatised.
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