Air India freezes recruitment, promotions, prepares for stake sale

Air India, disinvestment, debt, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, The Federal, English news website
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Air India has stopped giving promotions for its employees and recruiting new personnel as the government prepares for the disinvestment of the debt-laden airline, an official said on Sunday (July 21).

The government is expected to soon start the disinvestment process for Air India, which has a debt burden of more than ₹50,000 crore. For the disinvestment process, the official said that the airline’s books of accounts till July 15 have been closed and that those financials would be used while seeking bids.

Promotions and fresh appointments have also been frozen ahead of the stake sale for Air India, the official added. The airline has around 10,000 permanent employees. There was no immediate comment from Air India. Query sent to Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola remained unanswered.

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Sources said that Air India has also asked all department heads to ensure that there is no recovery pending against any of the employees. The message was conveyed to the heads of departments by the airline’s HR Director Amrita Sharan during a conference call last week, they added.

The government is looking to complete the Air India stake sale in the next four to five months. Air India is currently making revenue of ₹15 crore every day. Efforts to sell 76 per cent stake in the national carrier failed to take off in 2018.

Then, transaction adviser EY in its report had cited the government retaining 24 per cent stake and corresponding rights and high debt as reasons for the failure of the disinvestment process.

Also read: Govt committed to disinvestment of Air India: Hardeep Singh Puri

On July 3, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told the Rajya Sabha that the government is committed to the disinvestment of Air India and the plan is to make it more operationally viable before stake sale.

“It (Air India) will be sold when the buyer ultimately gives the cheque and there are certain prerequisites before any sale; those also have to be met. I do expect that to be finished in 4-5 months but nevertheless, to provide for that exigency, we have not accounted for Air India sale proceeds (in budgeted disinvestment proceeds).”

“We will try to finish it off by Diwali, if not before,” Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) Secretary Atanu Chakraborty said on July 7.

In her Budget speech on July 5, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that in view of current macro-economic parameters, the government would not only reinitiate the process of strategic disinvestment of Air India, but would offer more central public sector enterprises for strategic participation by the private sector.

Earlier this year, the government approved setting up of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) – Air India Assets Holding Company – to transfer ₹29,464 crore worth loans of the national carrier and its four subsidiaries.

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