The disinvestment process for Air India is proceeding expeditiously, a senior government official said today amid suggestions in certain quarters not to move ahead with the stake sale for now. A group of ministers is in the process of finalising the contours for the proposed strategic stake sale in the national carrier and expression of interest is likely to be invited from bidders soon. Debt-laden Air India is staying afloat on taxpayers' money. "The process of disinvestment is proceeding expeditiously," Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey told PTI. His comments also come against the backdrop of a Parliamentary panel likely to tell the government that Air India should be given at least five years to revive. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture concluded that the government should review its decision to privatise or disinvest Air India and explore the possibility of "an alternative to disinvestment of our national carrier which is our national pride". The panel is also understood to have concluded that the equity infusion in the national carrier, as part of the turnaround plan (TAP), was made on a "piece meal basis", adversely affecting its financial and operational performance and "forcing" the airline to take loans "at a higher interest rate to meet the shortfall". Sources said expression of interest for Air India disinvestment is likely to be issued by the government this month, possibly on January 25. However, the exact date could not be independently confirmed.
Queries sent in this regard to senior officials at the civil aviation ministry remained unanswered. Last year, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) gave its in-principle nod for the strategic disinvestment of the airline. Under a turnaround plan approved by the previous UPA regime, Air India is to receive up to Rs 30,231 crore from the government subject to meeting certain performance thresholds. The ten-year bailout package began from 2012.
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