Saturday, December 01, 2018

Running Out of Fuel, Fast

"To keep Air India running, we have invested Rs 50,000 crore so far. That money is the government's money, it's your money. It could have been used for school education," Union finance minister Arun Jaitley had said in a television interview in 2015. "And if the private sector can handle 86 per cent of flying, it can also handle 100 per cent." That statement was a precursor to an announcement that followed in June 2017: the airline would be privatised. However, three years after Jaitley made that statement, nothing has moved for the beleaguered airline.

With no takers for its divestment plan, has the government buried the idea for good? With the latest plan to turn Air India into a 'professional' organisation, the government seems to suggest just that. It has not been able to find a buyer for the airline, and now there are reports suggesting that the Niti Aayog has advised that its financials be improved first so that it can attract bidders and fetch a better price.

This could mean the last-ditch effort to save the airline has come to naught, casting a long shadow over its revival and the fate of over 21,000 of its staff. Moreover, as the government attempts to keep the airline alive by extending lifeline after lifeline in the form of loans, it is finally the taxpayer who is bearing the brunt of these attempts to pull off the impossible. Marred by decades of mismanagement, a slew of bad commercial decisions and bending of rules to serve the needs of the babus that run it, the erstwhile Maharaja has been nosediving steadily, losing market share even as it sinks deeper into a financial quagmire, defaulting on loans and delaying salaries to staff.
01/12/18 MG Arun/India Today