The Air India employees union today called the government’s proposal to privatise the national carrier unilateral and arbitrary and threatened to launch a campaign to oppose the move. The government’s plan to withdraw its stakes in Air India will be contrary to all its previous assurances, including in Parliament, the Air Corporations Employees’ Union (ACEU) said. “We are shocked and surprised to know from media reports that the government is on the verge of taking a unilateral and arbitrary decision to privatise Air India,” said an ACEU press statement.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had last week pitched for Air India’s divestment saying it has a market share of 14 per cent whereas its debt is Rs 50,000 crore. Following this, the civil aviation ministry said it was looking at all possible alternatives to make the airline viable. The Cabinet is expected to take a call on privatising Air India soon. ACEU, a registered trade union, comprises a majority of ground staff of Air India as well as its cabin crew. According to the union, Air India, which had been making profits till 2007, turned into a loss-making entity due to the “bungling and disastrous experiments by successive governments”.
The management and employees of the state-owned carrier must not be held responsible for its financial mess, it said. Air India has been in the red since the merger with Indian Airlines. However, it posted an operational profit of Rs 105 crore on account of low fuel prices and increased passenger numbers in 2015-16. Air India has been surviving on a Rs 30,000 crore bail-out package spread over 10 years announced by the Manmohan Singh government in 2012. The union says it is planning to launch a campaign to demand that the government drop its proposal and has also called for forming a platform of all stakeholders.
Discussions on disinvestment of Air India have gathered pace at a time when the CBI has registered three FIRs and a preliminary enquiry (PE) to go into the controversial decisions made by the erstwhile UPA government with regard to Air India, including surrender of profitable routes to favour private airlines, its merger with Indian Airlines and purchase of 111 aircraft.