New Delhi: A parliamentary panel meet on Monday on Air India privatisation plan witnessed sharp differences of opinion among ruling and opposition members over the move even as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Shatrughan Sinha is believed to have opposed the decision to privatise the national carrier.
The committee, headed by Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’ Brien, convened the meeting to hear representatives of Air India employees’ unions as well as officials of various Air India subsidiaries on the proposed divestment of the airline. The meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture that began at around 2.30pm lasted for more than three hours.
A Lok Sabha member said there were sharp differences of opinion among the BJP and non-BJP members at the meeting. All the trade unions strongly opposed the decision to privatise Air India, while some members wanted to know why profitable ventures like Air India Express are being sold, he added.
Another person who was present at the meeting said there were differences of opinion among the members, with some supporting and others opposing the disinvestment of Air India. Even though BJP members were in support of the Air India disinvestment decision, party member Shatrughan Sinha voiced his opposition to the plan, the person said on condition of anonymity.
A BJP MP from Bihar, Sinha has been critical of certain government decisions in recent times. According to the person quoted earlier, a Congress member stressed that Air India is a must to maintain a balance with the private players. People in the know said 14 employee unions of Air India, both recognised and unrecognised, attended the meeting.
Besides, stating that stakeholders were consulted before deciding on Air India stake sale, the unions also flagged concerns about job security, retirement benefits and pending dues in case of privatisation, they added. There were differences of opinion among various members, a person who was present at the meeting said, adding that it was likely the last meet of the panel on the Air India issue.
When asked about the meeting, Derek O’ Brien only said it was long and was for around three-and-a-half hours. Senior officials of the airline’s subsidiaries — Air India Express, Air India Engineering Services Ltd (AIESL), Air India Air Transport Services Ltd (AIATSL), Alliance Air and Hotel Corporation of India were present.
Among others, Air India Express CEO K. Shyam Sundar and AIESL CEO H.R. Jagannath attended the meeting. The cabinet committee on economic affairs (CCEA) gave its in-principle nod for the strategic disinvestment of Air India in June this year.
The government is working on the modalities for the stake sale. The carrier, which has a debt burden of more than Rs50,000 crore, managed to eke out operational profit for the first time in a decade in 2015-16.