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Steps to be taken to turn around AI; no privatisation: Govt

New Delhi: Crying foul, Opposition today alleged in Lok Sabha that there was a deliberate design to make state carrier Air India bankrupt in order to privatise it, prompting the government to rule out privatisation and promise administrative and monetary steps to turn it around.

CPI and BJP members slammed the government saying it was doing nothing to help the bleeding ‘Maharaja’, which used to be a symbol of prestige, and is now on death bed.

Specifically targeting Air India’s Chairman and Managing Director for the mess and attacking the Prime Minister’s Office for his appointment, they demanded an overhaul of the entire management followed by full financial infusion, contending that the recent Rs 1,200 crore package was not at all enough.

Responding to the members’ concern expressed through a calling attention motion, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs V Narayanasamy ruled out any move to privatise Air India and said the government would provide “all possible support” to strengthen the carrier.

Listing various steps being contemplated to turn around the airline, he said there will be a complete “rationalisation” of manpower.

“If government found any officer responsible for the losses, government will take action. Government has an open mind, … government will definitely consider that … action against officers responsible,” said Narayanasamy, responding on behalf of Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi who is suffering from a throat infection. Dissatisfied with the reply, the opposition members staged a walkout.

Noting that a Group of Ministers (GoM) was looking into the problems of Air India, Narayanasamy said a turnaround plan with financial support would be unveiled soon.
“The policy of the government is to strengthen Air India. Whatever possible support is required, will be given,” the minister said.

Contending that Air India had suffered due to declining passenger load and competition from private airlines after ‘Open Skies’ Policy in 2003 during NDA rule, he said the state carrier was facing a debt of over Rs 44,000 crore and a scheme is being worked out to address it.

Measures under consideration include rationalisation of routes to cut losses, rescheduling of aircraft, complete rationalisation of manpower, redeployment of staff, reduction in contractual appointments, aligning all operational and technical agreements between management and staff to reflect the present market conditions.

On issues pending from the merger, especially concerning human resources, the Minister said a Committee headed by Justice Dharmadhikari was soon going to submit its recommendations to the government.

While the airline Board was being reconstituted and remaining posts of functional directors being filled soon, he said the Ministry has also tightened its oversight mechanism. The Opposition members, including Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI), Murli Manohar Joshi and Shahnawaz Hussain (both BJP), asked the government to “come clean” on how large aircraft orders were given, why the losses mounted heavily after the merger two state-run airlines and “giving away” of profitable routes to private and foreign airlines.

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