The RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which has expressed reservation on Air India’s disinvestment, will present a report to Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu this month suggesting “alternative ways” to revive the national carrier. Prabhu recently met SJM co-convener Ashwani Mahajan to discuss the stake sale in the national carrier, sources said. “A five-member team led by Mahajan is preparing a report, which will suggest alternative ways to revive Air India and will present its report to the civil aviation minister this month,” a source said. The report will be considered before taking any call on Air India’s disinvestment, the same source added. When contacted, Mahajan confirmed that he and four other economists are preparing the “report” on Air India.
SJM has previously suggested that the government monetise Air India’s assets to repay debt, rather than selling its stake. Mahajan said Air India has operating profits, but is running into losses due to its debts. “So, rather than selling stake in the national carrier, the government can reduce its debt by selling off its land,” he told PTI. His remarks assume significance as RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has categorically said Air India should not be sold to a foreign buyer.
The Centre has invited ‘expression of interest’ to sell a 76-per cent stake and management control in the airline. Mahajan has said that the SJM is “opposed” to disinvestment of the national carrier in its “current form”, asserting the airline can be made profitable by repaying debt. He blamed the Congress for the sorry state of the airline and alleged that during the UPA rule, profitable routes of Air India were given to other airlines. “Rather than selling stake in the company, the government should make the airline profitable and then, if required, explore the option of raising money from markets by issuing shares,” Mahajan said.
The Indian government owns 100-per cent equity of Air India, which was founded in the 1930s. The airline is commonly known for its Maharajah mascot. The government has injected more than Rs 23,000 crore since 2012 to bail out the airline.