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In an unprecedented move DGCR penalizes Air India

NewsIP has always maintained that total annihilation of PSEs is no panacea. Still the votaries who tend to soothe say about total privatization continue with their tirade. The curious case of Bharat Petroleum stands out as a sore thumb for them. After having being rejected by most suitors, the current Minister for MoP&NG said he was not in favour of its disinvestment. He cited the fact that in a quarter BPCL has paid to the exchequer an amount as would have been derived from its outright sale. Hidden is the message is the fact that this payout to the government would continue, if it is not divested. NewIP had pointed this out much earlier in one of its releases. Of course, the mandarins did not pay any heed much like an errant son bent upon selling the family silver. In fact, some are still shamelessly canvassing for sale of profit making PSEs. Lets now come to the much tom tomed sale of Air India and its acquisition by the house of Tatas; it now seems to be a mixed bag. While the government could get rid of a debt ridden company with potential looses in future as well, a proper cost benefit and value analysis could have told a different story.

Aviation, War and Peace

Air India, till now, under the Tatas has not been a story of unmitigated success. From the fact that the ex employees were given the sort end of the stick in denied medical etc. (later the govt. seems to have taken over the burden) to residents being driven out of Air India colonies, the unfolding narrative has many ugly truths. In their anxiety to bring about a change in image, Air India killed the much valued Brand. The Maharaja mascot was deliberately torn down, heritage uniforms changed, markings on aircraft made anew but all this hardly impressed the customers. The famed in flight service of Air India was gone and lack of aircrafts made travel by passengers a nightmare. To cap it all Air India, in a never heard of move served food to passengers on the tarmac of airport. This prompted Union civil aviation minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia deeming the incident of air passengers having food on the tarmac as “unacceptable” and “shameful”. Swift action was taken, including show-cause notices and penalties, after a video of the incident went viral. Imagine the impact of such an episode on the domestic and international travelers. Forget about rebranding, it has muddied the Air India brand with tarmac coating! So much for the Tata re-branding exercise. The international travelers of Air India today are a hapless lot. The regular delays upto 24 hrs and more, have made their travel harrowing. Many a times, they have to make do, days at end, in airport hallways with no hotel accommodation provided by the company. No food, no water and no basic facilities even for infants are offered.
The latest transgression of Air India is much more serious. On Friday DGCA slapped a fine of Rs 80 Lakhs on Air India. This was due to Air India’s violation of norms related to flight duty time. This was pursuant to a spot audit in January by DGCA. There were serious lapses found in the audit. This raises some very grave issues. Air India when it was under the government came in for a lot of criticism. Today most citizens and big media houses are silent. Tatas are a big name in India with excellent PR and Corporate imaging including that in the social media. But the soft underbelly of its activities including defiance of the rules set out by DGCA and playing with the lives of the air travelers needs to be called out. Just because Tatas have a strong brand image it should not be allowed to toss caution to the winds, especially when it come to safety of air travelers. NewsIP does not want to alarm any air traveler but also feels it is the duty to highlight certain facts for bringing in improvements.
Perhaps the privatization process needs to look beyond the financial angle, it should also consider a contingent contract with necessary bindings to ensure specific performance. This is very much required for service oriented companies which are divested. Merely because someone is putting in money to buy a government company, it should not be allowed to destroy its intrinsic value. After all, in the government PSEs citizens have a stake whose rights cannot be simply frittered away.

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