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Finding a 'bakra' for Air India may not be easy: Ashok Gajapathi Raju

Another top aviation ministry source said Air India's divestment is going to be a challenge

Updated: Jun 01, 2017, 11.12 AM IST
Raju has always maintained that AI's financials are bad and questioned who will buy it in the current form.
Raju has always maintained that AI's financials are bad and questioned who will buy it in the current form.
(This story originally appeared in on Jun 01, 2017)
NEW DELHI: Finance minister Arun Jaitley and Niti Aayog may be in favour of disinvesting in loss-ridden Air India, but finding a "bakra", or a strategic investor, may not be easy , civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said on Wednesday.

“There are hardly any bakras around, so to get one is difficult and businessmen are businessmen. There are limitations. One thing is for sure, the taxpayer's money cannot be committed for eternity. So, that is one problem. Failures are there on the financial front, so, there are problems and these will be attended to,“ he told a TV channel. Raju's plain talk came when the channel asked him to comment on Niti Aayog's suggestion that half of AI's total debt of Rs 52,000 crore be written off, making it attractive enough to find a buyer.

Raju has always maintained that AI's financials are bad and questioned who will buy it in the current form. Another top aviation ministry source said AI's divestment is going to be a challenge. "There are very big issues that need to be addressed like how to arrive at the correct valuation and how will the transaction take place?" the source said.

"It cannot be business as usual at AI. The earlier (UPA) government's plans for financial restructuring and turnaround have not yielded the desired result. We no longer have the luxury of sitting on a decision on AI and something will have to be done fast,“ the source added."

Several AI insiders feel the best option for the national carrier could be returning to the fold of founder Tata, especially as Tata-Singapore Airlines (which had in 2000 bid for stand-alone AI) JV airline Vistara is preparing to start long overseas routes. “AI has the wide-bodied planes, pilots, slots at foreign airports and everything,“ said an airline insider.Qatar Airways is also planning to start an airline in India and has deep pockets.

Raju, however, said he did not want to speculate on possible buyers. “I am open to all ideas, I mentioned. I am not doing any speculation as of now .These airlines which you talked about, European basically , which were owned by the governments and these are facts, they have sold out and generally others have bought shares in it and they are going ahead. So, all options are there. No option is ruled out, no option as of date is preferred. Let us see what comes out of it.

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