In a tailspin
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Union Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh caused great turbulence with his statement that privatising Air India may be the only realistic option now. Air India had been reeling under losses of Rs 35,000 crore, accumulated over four years, but had been bailed out by the government with a cash infusion of Rs 30,000 crore over nine years, starting 2012-13, but that generosity is jarring, given the fiscal deficit. While it had managed to control the bleeding somewhat, the airline continues to lose money to the tune of Rs 11 crore a day, translating into a total drain of over Rs 4,000 crore. These losses are despite the government infusing Rs 16,300 crore in the last four years. How much, then, will the proposed infusion till 2020-21 change the situation at Air India? This is a crisis of credibility as much as of finances and operations.
Singh said that while the airline management and employees are aware of the crisis, the decision to privatise would require political consensus and the cabinet's initiative. That's easier said than done, because the last time Singh ventured to speak on similar lines, after a debilitating strike by Air India pilots, political parties united in outrage at the hint of privatisation, threatening a privilege motion against him for speaking of civil aviation policy outside Parliament. But Singh is right, an organisation as moribund as Air India, with no incentive to compete with the rest of the sector, demoralised employees and inefficient practices, needs a fundamental rewiring to survive.
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