How emasculated Air India has become is evident not just from its bleeding balance sheet but from the manner in which the once-mighty Maharajah has chosen to react to a few ex-employees criticising its functioning. Ironically, the circular was reported the same day that the Cabinet decided to approve privatising the airline—if nothing else, the Cabinet decision makes it clear the ex-employees were right in their comments. The airline warned its former employees that anything said against the airline could lead to curbs on their retirement benefits.
Air India, at present, offers free flights and contributory medical allowances to retired personnel, with those retiring after 30 years of service having the facility to avail 24 free flight tickets, of which a few can be used for international travel as well. The airline pointed that “it is unacceptable that a person who is availing post-retirement facilities like (free air) passage, medical, etc, from Air India talks against the company. Retired personnel who make such negative comments with the intention of tarnishing the image of the company will themselves be responsible for the cessation of their post-retirement facilities.”
As with all things concerning the government, various twitter warriors rose to its defence, arguing that private sector employees can’t rubbish their employers either. They may or may not be able to, but nothing stops an ex-employee from doing so. And retirement benefits are not bribes for keeping quiet, they are part of an employment contract. Air India, of course, has a reason to want to get its ex-employees to shut up. With suitors now readying to inspect its books and facilities, its ex-employees may actually be shining a light to where the rot is. In which case, it’s not just sticks and stones, words may also break Air India’s bones.