Sunday, July 05, 2020

Air India up for sale: 8,000 pieces of priceless art neither valued nor catalogued

For the second time in two years this January, the Narendra Modi government rolled out the process to sell Air India - the state carrier, long considered the Crown Jewels of Indian aviation, which is now languishing.
The Modi government wants to make a 100 per cent divestment in AI and AI express, which have a combined debt of ₹ 60, 074 crore.

Expect all those who have visited the iconic Air India building in Mumbai have seen it first hand: AI has priceless art collection of 8,000 pieces.

These include paintings by M.F. Hussain, V.S. Gaitonde, K.H. Ara and Kishen Khanna. AI was considered a significant patron of the Progressive Artists Group in the 1950’s which comprised world famous artists.
Artefacts include object d art, approximately 2,500, modern and traditional sculptures by artists such as B. Vithal, Pillo Pochkhanwala and P. Janakitan.

AI in its tax payer-funded treasure chest has a collection of exquisite and antique textiles in different fabrics - this includes the famous “Shringar” collection of costumes, which has been displayed both in India and abroad to high acclaim.

So as the Indian national carrier funded by the tax payers is out on the block you would reckon that such a magnificent collection of around 8,000 pieces of priceless art would be part of the asset evaluation of AI for its bidders?

Well you would be wrong.
The art collection has disappeared from the evaluation as I conclusively investigated over months for this Gulf News Investigation.
I filed a Right to Information (RTI) application in February this year. RTI is an Act of Parliament, which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information. The Act was made into a landmark law by the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance Government.

In my RTI petition I asked the Modi government and the Ministry of Aviation the following:

Air India is reputed to have 8,000 art works including paintings.

1. When was the last valuation carried out?
2. What is the valuation?
3. Has this valuation been included in the sales prospectus of AI?
4. Has the art catalogue of the AI collection been included in the assets for sale or is it going to be sold separately?

After a wait or four-and-a-half months, I had my official answer, which confirms the shocking truth that my sources had been telling me.

The RTI reply said categorically that the major art collection possessed by AI has never been valued. This itself is shocking as this art collection was paid for by tax papers money. Shouldn’t the collection have been appraised by experts and transparently valued every year?
05/07/20 Swati Chaturvedi/Gulf News
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