The government is planning to sell Air India and Bharat Petroleum Corporation, two debt-ridden state companies, by March 2020, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told The Times of India in an interview published on Sunday.
“We are moving on both with the expectation that we can complete them this year. The ground realities will play out,” Sitharaman was quoted as saying. The airline’s debt, which stood at Rs 55,000 crore at the end of March 2018, grew to Rs 58,351.93 crore at the end of March 2019.
The finance minister added that there was a lot of interest in Air India. In March 2018, the government had planned to divest 76% stake in Air India, ignoring a parliamentary panel’s recommendation to give the debt-ridden airline five years to revive itself. The proposed stake sale, however, failed to take off as the government did not receive any expressions of interest from potential bidders by the end of the deadline.
In October, the government had decided to sell its 53.29% stake in Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited. The sale of these two companies is expected to help the government meet its target of raising Rs 1 lakh crore via disinvestments.
Air India chief Ashwani Lohani had earlier this month assured employees that the airline was taking necessary steps to protect their interests. He wrote an open letter to the employees, saying that the company’s disinvestment will enable sustainability and help attain the full inherent potential of the national carrier.
Lohani’s letter had come at a time when employees’ unions were planning to protest against the government’s disinvestment move. They said there was no clarity on the payment of salary arrears and pensions.
The Centre is planning to invite bids for the national carrier next month. The government will conduct roadshows at global financial centres such as London and Singapore to woo investors for the disinvestment.
In August, Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri had said that the government was aiming for 100% privatisation of Air India. Puri claimed that “people are interested in acquiring Air India”.