The Union Cabinet on Wednesday gave the green signal for the privatisation of national carrier Air India and its five subsidiaries, PTI reported. The airline has a total debt of more than Rs 52,000 crore, an annual interest of Rs 4,500 crore and has been surviving on a Rs 30,000-crore bailout package issued by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2012. It has received Rs 24,000 crore so far.
With an “in-principle” approval, a group of ministers will now decide the final modalities of the sale, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Wednesday. “How much will be disinvested, by which process, its assets and debt, as also its hotel companies, will be deliberated,” said the minister.
The panel will decide whether to go for a 100% stake sale in one go or divest gradually. The options of 100%, 74% and 51% stake sale in Air India have been recommended by the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management.
Jaitley said the cabinet approved the disinvestment after a proposal was presented by the Civil Aviation Ministry. He said the government took the decision after it thought the airline could serve connectivity goals in private hands.
The “AI-specific alternative mechanism” headed by Jaitley will decide who can bid for the airline. The Tata Group is being seen as a potential bidder for AI, reported The Times of India. Current Indian rules allow India airlines to be owned by foreign entities. However, there is a cap of 49% on ownership by foreign carriers.
On June 22, Niti Aayog Vice Chairperson Arvind Panagriya had said that the government was likely to act on the privatisation of national carrier Air India within six months. Panagriya had said the airline’s debt was “simply not sustainable”.