Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday said that the ministry will attempt to issue the expression of interest for Air India in recent weeks, PTI reported.

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 November, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said that the airline was expected to be sold by March 2020. Sitharaman claimed there was a lot of interest in Air India.

“Air India is a first class airline, but there are no two views that privatisation has to be done,” Puri said at a media briefing on Tuesday. “We are not slaves of certain deadlines; we are trying to do it [disinvestment] as quickly as possible.”

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.

On November 27, Puri told Parliament that the Centre will have to shut down the national carrier if it was not privatised. However, he added that a favourable deal would be negotiated for all employees.

On Tuesday, the Union minister added that equilibrium needed to be maintained in the market and advised airlines to charge “realistic fares”. Puri said the aviation ministry had no plans to regulate air fares as it needed occur within parameters of deregulation.

“Can’t say predatory pricing is the only reason of ill health of airlines, it is one of the reasons,” the minister said. “After discussion with airlines, the trend of predatory pricing has reduced.”