The government on Friday extended the deadline for the submission of bids for stake in Air India till April 30. Interested bidders had requested an extension due to the situation arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management said.

The government had announced its intention to divest its entire stake in Air India in January, and had given March 17 as the deadline for submissions of initial expressions of interest. This was a major shift from the government’s stance in 2018 when it wanted to divest only 76% stake. The proposed stake sale, however, failed to take off on both occasions.

The decision to extend the deadline was taken by a ministerial panel led by Home Minister Amit Shah.

In August 2019, Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri had said that the government was aiming for 100% privatisation of Air India. Puri said that people are interested in acquiring Air India and the government needs to ensure the best possible deal for the debt-ridden carrier as soon as possible.

Air India’s debt stood at Rs 55,000 crore at the end of March 2018, and grew to over Rs 58,000 crore by March 2019. In 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 government did not receive any expressions of interest from potential bidders by the end of the deadline.

In November 2019, Puri told Parliament that the Centre will have to shut down the national carrier if it was not privatised. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that month that the airline was expected to be sold by March 2020.