Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Curious case of promotion in Air India just before its sale announcement

New Delhi: Days before the government announced sale of state-carrier Air India to Tatas, the Civil Aviation Ministry issued an order, barring promotions in the bleeding airline. 
 However, this order was defied by the Air India management, which promoted a Deputy General Manager Capt TPS Dhaliwal to the level of General Manager, and then went ahead to entrust him the charge of Executive Director, according to sources and documents available with UNI.
 The October 1 letter from the Civil Aviation Ministry, barring promotion and seeking its strict compliance, was shot off with the approval of the Civil Aviation Secretary Rajiv Bansal. Interestingly, Bansal also held the post of Chairman-cum-Managing Director of Air India on that date. Capt Dhaliwal was promoted from Deputy General Manager (Operations) to the level of General Manager on October 6, two days before the government announced that the Tatas had won the bid for Air India sale. 
 A few weeks later on November 15, Dhaliwal was also given the charge of Executive Director (Operations). Responding to a UNI query on the issue, Air India spokesperson said that "there is no specific official order not to promote employees." 
A WhatsApp message to Aviation Secretary Bansal went unanswered. An email dated November 19 seeking his response also went unanswered till publication of the story. Bansal is an Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer of 1988 batch from Nagaland cadre and has held several key positions in central ministries. Contrary to Air India response, internal communication seen by UNI showed that the Civil Aviation ministry had very clearly directed airline CMD to not upgrade employees due to inevitable disinvestment of Air India. Moreover, the copy was marked to the Director (Personnel) also. 
 "In context of the above and keeping in view that Air India is at an advanced stage of disinvestment and the process is likely to be completed soon. It (is) recommended that no promotion exercise of personnel in Air India be done at this crucial stage," the Aviation Ministry wrote to Air India Chief Bansal asking for strict compliance. On the same day, Bansal had taken charge as Aviation Secretary and an official press release in this regard was issued by the Press Information Bureau (PIB). 
 "This is issued with approval of Secretary (CA)," Under Secretary in ministry Sanjay Singh wrote in the letter referring to media reports suggesting Air India was planning to upgrade 126 pilots. The subject line of the Aviation ministry letter read as "Air India Financial Scam-Air India Upgrading 126 pilots just days before privatisation." UNI had on November 16 written to Air India for its response on whether the airline had promoted one Capt TPS Dhaliwal from Deputy General Manager (operations) to the level of General Manager. 
 "Capt. Dhaliwal has not been promoted from DGM to GM in violation of any official order. The fact is there is no specific official order not to promote employees. Capt. Dhaliwal, who has been GM Ops for quite some time, has now been given an officiating arrangement for operational reasons," Air India spokesperson Sameek Bhattacharya said in official response. 
 The government had announced on October 8 to sell Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express and ground-handling joint venture AISATS to Tatas for Rs 18,000 crore. Air India’s internal communication showed Capt Dhaliwal was promoted on October 6, 2021 and the order was issued by Ashwani Sehgal, Executive Director -- Personnel & IR (O). UNI has reviewed Air India's internal communication as well as the Aviation ministry's letter barring staff promotion. 
 23/11/21 Nirbhay Kumar/UNI
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