Air India chief Ashwani Lohani has termed the over Rs 48,000 crore debt in the company’s books as “insurmountable” for the carrier and blamed the erstwhile UPA government for its precarious finances. Lohani, in a Facebook post on Sunday, also took on “armchair critics” for blaming the company and its employees for the declining fortunes of the Maharaja.
“Air India went down due to the ill-fated decision of the merger of two organisations that were not destined to be, coupled with many other wrong decisions of the earlier regime… yet the mountain of debt that we acquired appears unsurmountable and is at the root of all the problems that manifest as symptoms to all and sundry,” Lohani said in his hard-hitting Facebook post.
Air India, which is surviving on a Rs 30,000 crore bailout package spread over a 10-year period, is working on ways to improve its financial position.
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In the last financial year, the airline posted an operational profit of Rs 105 crore on account of low fuel prices and increased passenger numbers.
Currently, the airline’s debt is estimated to be a little over 48,000 crore, with nearly one-third of the borrowings on account of the aircraft acquisition. A consortium of 19 lenders have extended loans to the national carrier.
It is looking to rejig debt worth Rs 10,000 crore under the scheme for sustainable restructuring of bad assets floated by the Reserve Bank.
Pointing out that while the grim financial scenario cannot be denied or wished away, Lohani said, “It indicates a gross lack of understanding of the issue on the part of many armchair critics to unfairly blame the company or its employees for the same.”
Acknowledging that “gross mismanagement” at the senior management levels of the company played its part in the rapid downward slide too, the Air India chief questioned the prudence of the government which appoints senior management functionaries.
Lohani also stoutly defended his entire workforce including the pilots and engineers, saying that “it needs appreciation that Air India always had and still has the finest set of employees be it the pilots, cabin crew, engineers or the rest.”
As part of its planned equity infusion, the government has allocated Rs 1,800 crore to Air India in the current fiscal. Till March this year, the carrier had received around Rs 24,000 crore from the government.