Acting quickly on the government's second attempt to sell the financially-crippled national carrier Air India, its chief Ashwani Lohani has called a meeting of all the 13 unions Monday to discuss the terms of privatisation, according to sources. The government Friday reiterated its intent to exit Air India with finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman stating in the budget speech that government will go ahead with privatisation of the flag carrier and has just earmarked a paltry Rs 1 lakh from the budget for the airline, that has been somehow keeping afloat.
The Narendra Modi government in its first term had also attempted to exit from the airline business but failed to get a buyer, forcing it to defer the plans. "The government has directed the Air India chairman and managing director to meet all trade unions and discuss the privatization move," a source close to development told PTI Friday night.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitaharaman while presenting the budget said, "in view of the current macroeconomic parameters, the government would not only re-initiate the process of strategic disinvestment of Air India, but would also offer more central enterprises for strategic participation by the private sector." Lohani along with AI board members are expected to meet all the 13 unions Monday, the source added. These unions are Air Corporation Employees Union, Air India Employees Union, Indian Airlines Technicians Association, All-India Aircraft Engineers Association, Indian Commercial Pilots Association, Indian Pilots Guild, Air India Aircraft Engineers Association, Air India Cabin Crew Association, Air India Engineers Association, Aviation Industry Employees Guild, All-India Service Engineers Association and United Air India Officers Association.
The meeting assumes significance considering that a number of unions among these 13 have in the past vehemently opposed sale of the airline. Significantly, the government has earmarked a royal outlay of Rs 1 lakh for Air India for the current fiscal as it expects to sell the airline this time around. Against this, the aviation ministry has got a budget allocation of Rs 4,500 crore for the year.
AI had received Rs 3,975 crore from government as equity infusion last fiscal, as per the documents. The AI unions have consistently been opposing any bid to sell the Maharaja claiming that privatization is not a remedy pointing to the way Kingfisher and Jet Airways went belly up.
"First it was Kingfisher which folded up, and now it's Jet Airways. The votaries of privatisation, both in the government and outside, need to understand that denationalisation alone can't bring profitability and efficiency in the airline business," a union leader had said. As many as six airlines, all private, including Jet, Air Pegasus, Air Odisha and Air Costa, have shut shops between 2014 and April 2019 for various reasons.