New Delhi, Jan 7 (PTI) This is not an appropriate time to divest government stake in Air India, which should be given at least five years to revive and its debt written off, a parliamentary panel is likely to tell the government.
The panel is also understood to have concluded that the equity infusion in the national carrier, as part of the turnaround plan (TAP), was made on a “piece meal basis”, adversely affecting its financial and operational performance and “forcing” the airline to take loans “at a higher interest rate to meet the shortfall”.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture concluded that the government should review its decision to privatise or disinvest Air India and explore the possibility of “an alternative to disinvestment of our national carrier which is our national pride”.
Observing that Air India has always “risen to the occasion” at times of need like calamities, social or political unrest in India or abroad, the Committee said “it would be lopsided to assess and evaluate the functioning of Air India solely from business point of view, as has been done by the NITI Aayog.”
In its revised draft report on the airline’s proposed disinvestment, the panel noted that the TAP and financial restructuring plan (FRP) was for a period of 10 years from 2012 to 2022 and Air India has shown “an overall improvement in various parameters and every indication is that it is coming out of the red”.
“At the end of TAP period, government may evaluate the financial and performance status of Air India and take a decision accordingly,” the panel said.
The parliamentary committee, after hearing the views of all stakeholders, “strongly feels that it will not be appropriate at this stage to disinvest when Air India has started earning profit from its operations.” It also said that as some of its subsidiaries Air India Air Transport Services Limited (AIATSL), Air India SATS Airport Services Private Limited (AISATS), Alliance Air and Air India Express were making profits, these units should “not be disinvested.”
Strongly recommending that the airline’s debt “should be written off by the government”, the revised draft report said, “Air India should be given a chance for at least five years to revive themselves”. The tenure of five years indicates the end of the TAP and FRP period in 2022.