The Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) is likely to finalise the list of qualified bidders for Air India in the current fiscal and is confident of participation of overseas and Indian companies in consortiums in the bidding process, DIPAM secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey said.
"We are hopeful of bids from both domestic and overseas players. During our roadshows, we saw interest from many investors in Air India, which included other airlines. They may bid in consortium. That's why the consortium conditions have been made flexible and mergers allowed, which means we have given them the option of restructuring the airline," Pandey said in an exclusive interview with IANS.
Pandey said that the government is very hopeful of Air India's successful sale due to its inherent strengths.
"The airline can be managed very well. It is a big asset and has a lot of potential. It has got travel slots, bilaterals... India is a very fast-growing civil aviation market. Air India has very competent people -- technical staff, pilots, crew etc. The cost of manpower is just 11 per cent of the total revenue," the officer said, adding that this figure is 20 per cent for many global airlines.
He said that Air India's disinvestment process had been set in motion and carried to its logical conclusion from the beginning of the next fiscal.
"But I won't hazard a guess as to when it will be completed, as it depends on due diligence by investors. Once the qualified bidders list is out, they would have to undertake due diligence, then the finalisation of SPA (Share-Purchase Agreement) and financial bidding. That may take place sometime from April onwards. We have indicated in the EoI that by March 31, we will be intimating the qualified bidders," the Secretary added.
On the airline's liabilities which can derail interest in its buyout, Pandey claimed that Air India assets matched its liabilities.
Air India's net loss in 2018-19 is provisionally estimated at Rs 8,556.35 crore.
"Current liabilities are part of ongoing concern. It also has assets and receivables. The important thing is that the liabilities match assets. Any excess liability than assets will be taken away and the net current liabilities will be brought down to nil," he said.
As per the EoI for the airline, which is being put up for sale for the second time after no bidders showed interest in 2018, the bidding consortia will be saddled with only Rs 23,286 crore of the total Rs 60,000 crore debt.
As for the eligibility, the lead member of a consortium can have 26 per cent shareholding as against the earlier criterion of 51 per cent.
The minimum shareholding in a consortium has also been eased to 10 per cent, potentially enabling more entities to bid as part of a consortium. The net worth for eligible bidders has been relaxed to Rs 3,500 crore from Rs 5,000 crore earlier.
On the issue of FDI, Pandey said: "As far as FDI is concerned, only the NRI element is the issue. DPIIT (Commerce Ministry) has to clarify on the FDI part. It is in the process. There is SOCE (Substantial Ownership and Effective Control) clause and DPIIT will soon come out with clarity to facilitate the bids."
The SOEC clause bars foreign investors from taking complete control of the airline's operations and to run it through a board whose two third members are Indians. The DPIIT is in the process of clarifying the issue.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)