Thursday, October 14, 2021

The big switch for Air India employees

When you enter the Air India Housing Colony in New Delhi’s Vasant Vihar area, the first thing you see at the gate is an old and battered sign saying “Aapka dil se swagat hai (a heartfelt welcome)”, which seems quite ironical now considering the government, which had put up that sign nearly 50 years ago, is now asking the colony’s residents to vacate their homes.

Inside the society, you are surrounded by five-storeyed beige and red buildings that haven’t aged very well, having lost their coating of paint and with the windows and balconies showing signs of wear and tear.

Despite the gloomy first impression from the outside, from the inside, these apartments are very pleasant and well maintained, mostly due to the money spent by the Air India employees residing in them.

“I have stayed in this apartment for nearly 10 years now and every year for the last five years I have spent around Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 refurbishing things like water pipes, electrical systems, etc., and now I am preparing to leave and move to (Delhi’s southwest sub-city) Dwarka,” a senior cabin crew of Air India living at the society told Moneycontrol on condition of anonymity.

Most others residing here too have spent money refurbishing their homes for years now, but now have been told to vacate their apartment six months after Air India is sold, or pay damage charges of Rs 10 lakh.

The government’s move is part of its plan to divest its 100 percent stake in loss-making Air India and monetise the airline’s non-core assets including its residential properties, both in Delhi and Mumbai.

The biggest concern according to nearly all 20 of the residents of Air India’s Vasant Vihar housing society that Moneycontrol spoke to, is the dent in their monthly finances due to a higher outgo in rent as the rates for flats they plan to relocate to were higher than the housing allowance provided by the airline. An attendant problem is children’s education.

“We are planning to move to a new apartment in Noida as rents in Delhi are very high and we cannot afford them. Because of this, we have to look for a new school for my kids in the middle of the academic year,” said a senior engineer who has been living in the Vasant Vihar complex for nearly 12 years.

He added that with the Rs 20,000 or so he gets as house rent allowance, it is nearly impossible to find an apartment in Delhi for his family of five. Even his new apartment in Noida would cost him Rs 28,000 which would take a bite out of his monthly budget, he said.

The government’s move to evict them also took many Air India employees by surprise. “We were told by senior management that the government will either come up with new accommodation for us or increase our house rent allowances, but neither has been done till now and there has been no communication with us either,” member of the ground handling staff told Moneycontrol.

14/10/21 Yaruqhullah Khan/Moneycontrol

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