Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said a “proper decision” would be taken on Air India’s future in a competitive market and that it would be in the government’s interest to protect jobs at the airline. His remarks come at a time when a group of ministers headed by him is working on the modalities for the divestment of loss-making Air India. In a competitive market, challenges are different and a “proper decision” would be taken on what Air India has to do in such a market, Jaitley said in the Lok Sabha.
“Is mein karmchariyon ke services bachee rahen, is mein hamara bhi swarth hai (It will be in the interest of the government to protect the jobs at Air India),” he said while replying to a discussion on Supplementary Demands for Grants. Noting that the airline has a debt of Rs 50,0000-55,000 crore which is “not small”, he said, “now we have to decide what has to be done with the Air India”. He also wondered for how long can tax collected from the public be given to the public sector airline.
The previous UPA government had extended bailout package worth little over Rs 30,000 crore to the national carrier for a 10-year period starting from 2012. Air India has a share of around 15-16 per cent in the domestic market while some 84-85 per cent passengers are flying in private airlines, Jaitley said. “We must not create a situation which leads to not being able to save the existing jobs. If we keep running any commercial establishment and is run more as a government department rather than a commercial establishment, then let alone creating new jobs we won’t be (even) able to save some of the existing jobs,” he said.
Asserting that the government is not in favour of closing down any corporation to the extent possible, the minister said each case would be taken on its merit before deciding on what is in the larger interest of that corporation.