The government is looking at “alternatives” available to make Air India and other public sector units more competitive and profitable, Union minister Jayant Sinha has said. The future course of action for the loss-making airline, which is surviving on taxpayers’ money, is being actively looked at by the government and a decision on the possible privatisation is likely in three months. “Our objective is to transform the public sector carrier to a great global airline and we are doing whatever possible in this regard,” the Minister of State for Civil Aviation told reporters here yesterday.
To a question on privatisation, he said the government was studying alternatives to strengthen the public sector units, including Air India, and make them “competitive and profitable”. Asked why private airliners are operating more on profitable routes than Air India, Sinha said that route network, which was not optimised for long, was finalised after long discussions. He said the present government had made efforts to optimise route network based on viability during the last three years and was viewing the new routes such as Washington DC, Copenhagen and Ranchi-Kolkata as profitable. “We have made efforts to optimise route network on favourable routes with an intention to make the airline more competitive and profitable. The Air India also procured new aircraft to achieve the goal,” he said.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and his Civil Aviation counterpart Ashok Gajapathi Raju last week discussed the future course for debt-ridden Air India, with senior officials indicating that a decision on privatisation will be taken within three months. Appreciating the initiatives taken by the government, Sinha said its efforts had resulted Air India, which was incurring loss for the past ten years, to make Rs 105 crore operating profit last year. On Opposition’s allegations that employment opportunities during the last three years have drastically come down in the country, Sinha said on the contrary jobs had registered an increase in the organised sector.
However, he said, the data in the unorganised sector was not clear even though the job opportunities increased in this sector too. He said a committee had been formed to study the prevailing status of employment generated and the opportunities. Clarifying his stand on the employment generated during the last three years, the minister said labourers were not available to work in projects under MNREGA as they moved out to other places to work for more money. Labourers in Ramgarh and Hazaribagh districts were not available for MNREGA, which pays Rs 175 per day, as they were working in construction sites at wages ranging between Rs 300 to Rs 400 per day. Claiming that the development work is going on rapidly across sectors, Sinha said the government had decided to invest Rs 8.5 lakh crore on railways, Rs 8 lakh crore on infrastructure, including roads, and Rs 2 to 2.5 lakh crore on airports to increase the facilities for the masses.