The Maharaja Is Now Impoverished, Says Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju

The NITI Aayog has been tasked with preparing a road map for state-owned Air India which is deeply in the red.

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Civil Aviation ministry said Air India posted an "operational profit" of 105 crores last year.

New Delhi: 

Highlights

  1. Air India may be the first public sector unit up for disinvestment
  2. It has 50,000 crores in 'legacy debts', according to Union Minister Raju
  3. Decision to buy Boeing planes and reselling them cost Air Inda 671 crores
The Maharaja has seen good days, but is impoverished now, Union Minister for Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju told NDTV on Thursday, sharing that when plan body NITI Aayog said Air India may be the first public sector unit to be up for disinvestment, no one at his ministry was surprised. Full privatisation is also an option being considered for the national carrier, the minister said. 

The NITI Aayog has been tasked with preparing a road map for the airline which is deeply in the red. It has 50,000 crore in what Mr Raju calls "legacy debts." The plan body's recommendations are expected in a few weeks after which the government will take a decision on the carrier's future.

"At the moment we are considering all options. Things can't continue the way they are, we cannot afford to. The Maharaja which had resplendent days, is now impoverished," Mr Raju said during a discussion on the eve of the PM Narendra Modi government's three years of rule.

The minister, who is a member of the BJP-ally Telugu Desam Party, said a decision on disinvestment versus privatisation would need to be taken much before the next anniversary. 

"I don't think we have that much time," he said. 
 
ashok gajapathy raju

Union Minister Ashok Gajapathy Raju also spoke about the incident involving Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad.

While the ministry is proud of the fact that the carrier has improved its OTIP or On Time Performance and even posted an "operational profit" last year of 105 crores, Mr Raju said that many wrong decisions have been taken by successive governments including, he said, "acquiring new aircraft, then selling them again.''

The minister was referring to the decision of the previous Congress-led UPA government's decision to buy Boeing planes and then sell them at a lower cost to Etihad in 2013. A recent report by the government's auditor CAG said the move had cost the carrier 671 crore rupees. 

"It was a decision we couldn't afford," Mr Raju said. 

The minister also talked about what he calls the "Professor episode," involving Shiv Sena lawmaker Ravindra Gaikwad, who assaulted an Air India staffer. 

"As I told Parliament, never did I imagine that an MP would fall under those rules that we framed in 2014," Mr Raju said, adding, "I don't know how someone can beat up someone 25 times, but that's what we heard. The airlines took the decision and the MP wrote me three letters. Two of them I forwarded directly to the police station. The third where he apologised, I sent as an advice to the airlines to consider."

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