Union Minister Piyush Goyal
Union Minister Piyush Goyal

Davos: At a time the Modi government is desperately working on divesting debt-laden Air India, it seems there is a buyer lurking right under its nose.

And that too none other than Union Minister Piyush Goyal who said in Davos on Thursday that if he was not a minister, he would be bidding for the airline.

Goel’s statement, of course, was tongue in cheek and he was essentially making out a case that the national carrier is a well-managed and efficient airline, which is nothing short of a goldmine.

"If I weren't a minister today, I would be bidding for Air India. It has some of the best ‘bilateral(s)’ the world over...’’

Bilateral(s) refer to an agreement between two countries that allows each other's airline to operate services with a specific number of seats.

Goel’s assessment is at variance with that of Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, who had earlier said that Air India will be shut down, in case the disinvestment exercise is not successful.

In 2018, the Modi government wanted to offload 76 per cent stake in the PSU, while retaining 24 percent with it. However, it didn’t find any bidders.

After its failed first attempt, the government has shown greater zeal this time. It is set to offer a sweetened deal to potential buyers this time around by removing a large chunk of the debt and liabilities from the airline books.

However, plan to sell the national carrier may face political and legal head-winds with senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy raising the red flag against the decision.

Days before the launch of bidding process by inviting Expressions of Interest from potential suitors, Swa-my has warned against such move, saying the issue was currently being discussed by a Parliamentary panel.

"Right now, it (Air India disinvestment) is before the consultative committee and I am a member of that. I have been asked to give a note which will be discussed in the next meeting. They can't go ahead without that," Swamy told IANS.

"If they do, I will go to court. They know that too," he cautioned.A vocal opponent of Air India privatisation, Swamy had earlier suggested that 49 per cent of Air India shares be listed on stock exchanges while the government holds 51 per cent as an alternative to selling its entire stake to private companies.

Sources told IANS that the preliminary information memorandum inviting expression of interest is tentatively scheduled to be unveiled on January 27.

A Ministerial panel on Air India chaired by Home Minister Amit Shah on January 7 approved the draft Expression of Interest and a share purchase agreement for the airline's disinvestment.

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