New Delhi: While asserting that Air India is a "first-rate asset," Union Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri said on Thursday that the government's privatisation programme for the national carrier has been delayed, but not derailed by the COVID crisis. In an interview to Times Now, Puri said, "So far, what we have done is to delay the receipt of the Expressions of Interest (EoIs) by a period of two months. And we'll take it from there. So far, there is no derailment."
Pointing out that even though Air India is a first-rate asset, it faces problems because of its unsustainable debt burden, Puri said that the national carrier requires Rs 500-600 crore of liquidity infusion every month in order to operate. "Let me tell you, Air India is a first-rate asset. Air India has world-class engineering, cockpit, cabin crew. It has all the routes. It has 80 destinations it flies to. It flies to 40-50 foreign destinations. It has civil aviation access. We must keep Air India going. But whether the government is the right entity to run it? Air India's problems are due to the unsustainable debt-servicing burden. So, our programme of privatisation is very much there."
In the backdrop of the Coronavirus lockdown, the government extended the last date for the submission of EoIs (Expression of Interest) for the divestment of 100 percent stake in Air India for the second time in April. According to a notification posted on the DIPAM (Department of Investment and Public Asset Management) website, the last date for the submission of EoIs for sale of Air India was extended from April 30 to June 30.
Puri's statement comes as Air India has been at the forefront of relief operations being carried out by the government to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Air India has evacuated Indians stranded in COVID hotspots around the world, including in China's Wuhan, and conducted several rescue operations. Along with its subsidiary Alliance Air, Air India has flown 278 flights for transporting essential cargo and medical equipment across the length and breadth of the country under Lifeline UDAN. And on Thursday, the airline has begun Vande Bharat Mission, an initiative to bring back 14,000 stranded Indian citizens from 12 foreign countries.
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