Choice now between disinvestment or shutting down: Union Minister Hardeep Puri on Air India’s future

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Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri Saturday said that Air India will be 100 per cent disinvested as the choice now was between disinvestment or closing down.

“We’ve decided that Air India will be 100% disinvested. Choice isn’t between disinvestment and non-disinvestment, it is between disinvestment and closing down. Air India is a first-rate asset but has an accumulated debt of Rs 60,000 crore. We need to wipe the slate clean,” the Union minister was quoted as saying by ANI.

Speaking on the bids that the government has received to date, Puri added, “In the last meeting, on Monday, it was decided that the shortlisted bidders for the Air India disinvestment will be informed that the bids have to come in within 64 days. This time, the government is determined and there is no hesitation.”

In 2018, the government had floated the Expression of Interest for Air India to offload a 76 per cent stake and management control in the airline but it did not get a single bidder. The government currently owns 100 per cent equity of Air India. However later, the government had decided to sell off 100% of its stake as the government holding even a minor stake in the airline post disinvestment was seen as a huge negative for any potential buyers. Government sources, however, had said that the rationale behind holding a 24% stake was that the sale of the remaining 76% would immediately swell the value of government’s shareholding in the airline, which it would offload at a later point in time.

The new owner will be taking on a fleet of 121 aircraft in Air India’s fleet and 25 planes in Air India Express’ fleet. These exclude the four Boeing 747-400 jumbojet aircraft that the airline plans to transfer to its subsidiary Alliance Air, which is not a part of the current transaction. However, like the last attempt, the properties currently in use by Air India, including the Nariman Point building and the company’s headquarters near Connaught Place in New Delhi will be retained by the government.

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