Upgrading governance

The case of Air India


Adve Srinivasa Bhat | July 14, 2014

This government too wants to fly Air India! I am disappointed. It should know; the entire nation would feel dejected if only the simple money equation of the airline is advertised as effectively as the party in power did to promote itself in the recent elections. The truth: the decision on Air India is simpler than secondary school math.

As an informed citizen; of the airline’s perennial losses, its immature management and of its frustratingly mature mismanagement – through the boring stories of cooked-up hype and hopeless distress – in the media through the years, I expected this government which assumed power with the aura of better governance – to suppress its urge to fly the distraught airline.

I am not trying to harp on the repeatedly suggested case for privatisation. The government is now way past being wise even for doing that. Air India is a case of a complex business reduced down to the obvious decision which merely calls for elementary vyapar wisdom – to take the call. A company with debts of over twice its turnover which itself is bad by a fifth can only be awfully ignorant to think that it will survive in the market it has ceded to competitors so effortlessly – with help, with additional cash almost as much as twice its turnover. (Air India’s indecisively reported gross revenues for the year 2013-14 is Rs19,300 crore). The government should know; Air India turned unfeasible many years ago.

The apprehension of the informed general public is no more about the dubious salvage value but of the folly in the government’s decision to put more public money into this slipshod enterprise which is widely reported to have maintained several age-old customary sinful drains. Despite serious aspersions, accusations, and even shameful cases of misdeeds and mismanagement the airline has managed to survive being sick almost all through and for so long. Interestingly, Air India and ‘Indian Airlines’ that is now merged with it have never got their money math right in spite of expensive advice from many MNC consulting firms so very often and often with many of them working together. Not just the MNC consulting firms even the marketing services firms in India have made good from the loose management at these govt run airlines. The classic one is that of changing the brand name of ‘Indian Airlines’ to ‘Indian’ and the communication blitz that ensued – when it was almost put on process to merge it with Air India. The top management at the airline explained it as competition strategy!

The civil aviation ministry which has faced charges of scams and impropriety has always, by its deeds and talks, appeared like a small but very influential business house negotiating deals, more so, after the private players came in – far from being a ministry providing directions through constructive policies to its various constituent divisions, companies and the whole sector in the larger interest of the society. The kind of ruins we see in the sector today only begs the question: what was the ministry doing all these years? The truth is; the ministry by not doing its expected tasks and by doing what was not expected of it caused this loss heap called Air India and a set of hopeless private airlines. Its incompetence to frame policy measures, caveats and sound stipulations resulted in Jet buying Sahara and slog with that and Kingfisher buying sunk Deccan and sink with that. The ministry was spectator and facilitator to the senseless ego driven acquisitions by unfit companies. It was also mute to irresponsible market maneuvers by these companies that resulted in crazy fluctuation in prices and therefore in their finances as well. The most awkward truth is that; while the ministry which has no time and concern for the plight of hundreds of employees of Kingfisher whose salary for months have remained unpaid for about two years now had all the time and concern to help shift losses of Deccan and Sahara one of which is being shifted back to the government with a multiple factor of 20 in the form of bad debts in its own banks. Where is the sense of social welfare in this affair of the government?

It is apparent; all government s irrespective of the party running it want the civil aviation ministry for selfish reasons that actually ruined the sector year after year at huge costs to the nation. Every new minister headed straight into the cockpit belittling its precarious financials talking of nation’s pride and social responsibility with his ears shut to all the sane public counsel – only to end up doing the opposite.

The unsettling fact is that the new minister sounds no different in spite of the real hope of better governance instilled in us all by the prime minister. His views in a recent interview are killing that hope a bit too soon. He says the answers are not simple! He says the ministry would be transparent in its decision but wouldn’t disclose what he discussed with the PM!! He refers to structural defects hurting feasibility but talks of only taxes and without commitment. He says privatization is not the answer - talking of social responsibility and justifying that by saying airlines in the private sector have also collapsed. I hope the minister conducts an unbiased workshop to introspect with his team to know the real causes for the failures in the aviation sector and also to know why Air India doesn’t stand a chance to survive. And, of course he spoke of many nice things in the future tense that are not really relevant in the short to medium term. He did say the government will put in the money sought but - hoped - the airline improves and added the government would hold hand only up to a point. Reassuringly he said aviation is not a sector that can be subsidized in any manner and hoped all airlines understand that. Soon, the government would realize the fallacy in its decision to let one fit business group to launch two airlines with equally fit partners when almost all the airlines including its own are struggling with their finances. As the new airlines become active one or two of the stressed ones may have to stop flying and the minister in the best interest of the society would have to keep his word – of refusing cash to them from the government’s banks or cash equivalent of any sort. Had the government not allowed acquisition of Sahara and Deccan by operating airlines, all airlines would have been flying smoothly today.

More puzzling of all the news about new thinking on the sector is that even PMO wants to fly Air India. It has asked the civil aviation ministry to think out ten customer-centric ideas! The government seems to be shifting from mismanagement of public businesses to mishandling them, for worse. The approach itself sounds amateurish. It sounds obvious that the govt has set out to prescribe solutions without knowing the problems and right insights. Applying the concept of opportunity cost often used in business for decisions - to the management of nation I must say the government’s urge to take up the challenge to turn Air India around can only result in causing massive social cost even if the turnaround indeed happens, whenever it does. Air India’s reported debts and accumulated losses add up to about Rs.70,000 crore. Currently its monthly loss is over Rs.400 crore. It has asked for Rs.30,000 crore to revive itself – over nine years! It now feels that money may not be good enough! Entry into the star alliance does not improve its chances of survival but can surely help fetch better return on equity trade off.

Democracy is faulty by the degree of disregard – of the ignorant citizens by the rulers. Over 99.5% of the people of our country cannot know of the mess in Air India. Governance is all about validating the government’s decisions in the interest of the larger society whose members have put their trust in a few who have proclaimed to be noble.



Other News

NTPC adds highest ever capacity; records highest single day generation

  With commissioning of 800 MW unit at Kudgi in Karnataka, 250 MW unit at Bongaigaon in Assam and 20 MW at Bhadla solar in Rajasthan, the total installed capacity of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) group has reached to 49,943 MW.   The 12th plan cap

Why do we need Aadhaar?

 Aadhaar is arguably one of the most convoluted public policy interventions in India’s history. It has been more than eight years, yet there is little clarity on the exact purpose of the biometric-based unique identification project.  Let me take you through an event which I witne

AAI signs MoU with Daman and Diu admin for maintenance of Diu airport

The airports authority of India (AAI), a Miniratna PSU, has undertaken operation, development and maintenance of Diu airport from Diu administration.    A memorandum of understanding demonstrating the responsibilities was inked on March 20 between the union terri

PSU performance: Better than expected

Central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) have done quite well despite facing headwinds, according to the Public Enterprises Survey (2015-16) that was tabled in parliament on March 21. The net worth of all the CPSEs have gone up and the overall net profit has zoomed. Their contribution to the cen

National Health Policy: Old prescription, new date

After much discussion and pondering over for more than two years, the cabinet has approved a new National Health Policy, scrapping the old one which was formulated in 2002. The government aims to increase the public health expenditure to 2.5% of the GDP by 2025. The policy formulated in 2002 aimed

It’s traumatic, says African student

  “We have requested more security from the government of India and the Uttar Pradesh government,” said Abdou Ibrahim, senior adviser, Association of African Students (AASI)  following an attack on four students from Africa in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. &n


यूपी में नकल करने वालों की अब खैर नहीं

Current Issue


Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter