Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri on Wednesday told the Rajya Sabha that the government will have to close national carrier Air India if it is not privatised, IANS reported. However, he added that a favourable deal would be negotiated for all employees.

Later, Puri reiterated his opinion while speaking to reporters from ANI. “If Air India is not privatised then from where the money would come for it to function?” asked the minister. “Earlier we used to go to finance ministry to make up the operating loss. We are not getting any money from the finance ministry, we have to go to banks.”

Puri said Air India was a first-class asset at present. “If we sell it now then bidders would come,” he said. “If we take ideological positions that we don’t want to sell it then it would be difficult to run it in the future.”

The minister said any company that would acquire Air India would also require the services of 4,000 trained engineers, who are currently employees of the national carrier. 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.

In August, Puri had said the government was aiming for 100% privatisation of Air India. On November 8, Air India chief Ashwani Lohani told employees in an open letter that the airline was taking necessary steps to protect their interests. He added that disinvestment would enable sustainability and help attain the “full inherent potential” of the airline.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told The Times of India in an interview on November 17 that the government was planning to sell Air India and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited by March 2020.