NDA ally Shiv Sena today came down heavily on the Centre over its decision to privatise national carrier Air India, saying had such a decision been taken by the previous Congress-led UPA government, the BJP would not have spared it. It also asked the finance minister to spell out the reasons which made the ‘Maharaja’ (the Air India’s characteristic logo) a “beggar.”
The Sena’s taunt comes two days after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Cabinet has given “in-principle” approval for the disinvestment of Air India. The Civil Aviation Ministry is charting out the disinvestment of the debt-laden carrier. “Had this decision been taken by the previous government, the BJP would have exposed the Congress in public. The BJP would have asked how can a government that cannot run an airline, run the nation,” the Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece ‘Saamana’. “But the BJP today has indulged in the sale of the national carrier,” it noted.
The Sena also sought to know from Jaitley the reasons for Air India’s downfall and losses in the last few years, and those responsible for it. The airline earlier had a local market share of about 35 per cent which has gone down to a mere 16 per cent. This happened as many routes were sold off to private companies by the Civil Aviation Ministry, the Sena claimed. “This is corruption. If done during the Congress regime, the Modi dispensation had a chance to undo the damage. Why did they not do it?” it asked.
“Today the airline is being sold off as it has a debt of Rs 50,000 crore. Tomorrow the government will say they are unable to provide for the security cost of Kashmir valley and will thus auction it. They cannot be trusted,” the Sena claimed. Surviving on taxpayers’ money, Air India has been in the red for long and various proposals, including government think tank Niti Aayog’s suggestion for complete privatisation, have been made.
The airline has a debt of more than Rs 52,000 crore and is surviving on a Rs 30,000-crore bailout package extended by the previous UPA government in 2012.