New Delhi/ Mumbai: The United Progressive Alliance government will give lawmakers an account of the state of debt-laden Air India Ltd on Tuesday even as moves may be afoot to replace its chairman Arvind Jadhav, whose appointment is being challenged by the opposition, aviation ministry officials said.
Currently undergoing a government rescue, Air India’s debt is expected to touch $20 billion (Rs 90,000 crore today) by the end of this fiscal. It has been afflicted by labour strife, hasn’t paid its employees for two months and most recently its entry into the Star Alliance grouping was suspended.
At least five members of Parliament (MPs) have issued a calling-attention motion on Air India.
Aviation minister Vayalar Ravi, who is suffering from a sore throat, may lay the Air India statement in the House or another minister may speak on his behalf.
“A statement will be laid tomorrow morning in reply to the questions that have been asked,” said a ministry official, who did not want to be named.
Jadhav’s appointment is also likely to be under focus in the House. He may be asked to leave soon, a top government official said. “The green signal is there from all levels,” he said, adding that the hunt for replacements is on.
Two candidates who were approached for the job said few want the post, because Air India “has been ruined completely”, according to one of them. The second candidate said: “No one would like to leave with the reputation of closing an airline.” Both candidates declined to be named.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blamed the Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday for Jadhav’s appointment in 2009 after his candidature was rejected by a search committee in 2008.
“A close scrutiny of the minutes for the appointment (of Jadhav) are shocking on how this appointment for an extremely challenging job post-merger was executed manipulatively, subverting all norms of appointment,” BJP MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy said in a letter to the Prime Minister on Saturday. This followed the minutes of the meeting being released by the cabinet secretary’s office after a two-year wait on a Right to Information application.
Jadhav was appointed chairman in 2009 replacing Raghu Menon. No reasons were given for the change. Jadhav, who was in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday, declined to comment for this story.
Air India has made an after-tax loss of about Rs 6,994 crore and Rs 5,552.44 crore in the last two fiscal years, respectively. It has also seen multiple industrial disputes in this period, with a loss of Rs 200 crore alone due to a pilot’s strike in May. Last month, in a major embarrassment, the airline’s entry into Star Alliance was suspended, the first time this has happened in the grouping’s 14-year history. Air India denied that the action took place because it hadn’t met conditions for entry.
The government should analyse the two years of Jadhav’s tenure, said an expert.
“The government should be clear about what it is achieving by this change of guard. It should assess the performance parameters of Arvind Jadhav and, if it’s satisfactory, the government should give him more time,” said Sandeep K. Krishnan, vice-president (human resources and corporate development) at consultant Acropetal Technologies Ltd. “The government should assess whether Jadhav’s leadership has inspired confidence among external and internal stakeholders. The government, competition and customers are external partners while trade unions and employees are internal parties.”
Another analyst said the airline has slipped into an abyss.
“His single biggest achievement is that he has taken Air India into such a deep hole that even Houdini can’t bring it out of that,” said Mohan Ranganathan, an air safety expert and member of the government-appointed Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council. “And his second biggest achievement is that he has ensured that Air India will never be part of Star Alliance.”