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Ministerial panel holds first meet on way ahead for Air India privatization

LiveMint logoLiveMint 21-07-2017 Tarun Shukla

New Delhi: A group of ministers tasked with the privatization of Air India Ltd held its first meeting in the capital on Friday to discuss the next steps in the process.

The 45-minute meeting at the finance ministry was led by finance minister Arun Jaitley, and attended by aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, railways minister Suresh Prabhu, power minister Piyush Goyal and Air India chairman Ashwani Lohani.

One official briefed on the subject who declined to be named said the first meeting was meant to focus on two points. One, Air India was to put its accounts and data before the group to explain issues such as its debt burden and the way forward on resolving it. Two, the ministers had to discuss the appointment of a transaction adviser, legal adviser and valuer.

“The plan was to lay before them the state of the airline and not to propose something,” said the official cited above.

Only after the advisers are appointed can discussions begin on the structure of the divestment process.

The meeting was called by the department of investment and public asset management, which will now take the process of appointing consultants forward.

There was no official statement after the meeting. “If there is something worth saying, we will let you know,” Raju told reporters after the meeting.

Civil aviation secretary R.N. Choubey declined to comment. “It is market-sensitive information,” he said.

Prabhu and Lohani too declined to comment.

The panel has been mandated to look at hiving off certain Air India assets, a possible demerger of its business verticals, strategic disinvestment of three profit-making subsidiaries, the size of the proposed divestment, and criteria for eligible bidders.

The mandate was approved by the cabinet committee on economic affairs at its meeting held on 28 June.

This came a month after Jaitley told Doordarshan in an interview broadcast on 27 May that there was now a historic second chance to divest a stake in Air India 18 years after a similar move did not fructify.

Air India has about 17% share of traffic on routes linking India to international destinations and 13% of the domestic market. Its total debt was Rs48,876.81 crore as on 31 March 2017.

IndiGo (InterGlobe Aviation Pvt. Ltd), the largest airline in the country, has publicly shown interest in Air India.

The Tata group, which started the airline in 1932 before it was nationalized, has also sought details from the government in informal conversations, Mint reported on 20 July.

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