Govt panel rekindles Air India disinvestment debate

  • Moushumi Das Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 27, 2016 00:25 IST
Loss-making behemoths Air India and India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) have been on the disinvestment radar for nearly two decades. (HT File Photo)

Air India’s privatisation is back on the drawing board with a panel of senior bureaucrats recommending to Prime Minister Narendra Modi a government exit from the state-run carrier.

The panel, one of eight constituted by Modi on December 31 to come up with ideas for transformative changes on “good governance”, stated this in a presentation to the PM on January 20. The group of 12 secretaries, including foreign secretary S Jaishankar, home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das and law secretary PK Malhotra, recommended that the government start planning to get out of sectors such as airlines, hotels and travel agencies to bring Modi’s “minimum government, maximum governance” mantra to fruition.

Loss-making behemoths Air India and India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) have been on the disinvestment radar for nearly two decades. But, it has been hard to build political consensus over divestment of government stake in these companies.

A committee headed by former Reserve Bank of India deputy governor Rakesh Mohan recommended to the previous UPA government in 2014 that it should draw up a blueprint to reduce the government’s stake in Air India to 26% over a five-year period. But what is different this time is that the recommendation has come from bureaucrats perceived to be powerful in the current dispensation and known to drive its policy agenda.

Officials present at the meeting when the panel made its presentation said the PM did not react to the recommendation on divestment.

“The officials told the PM that the government should not be in these sectors. It’s also in line with the PM’s mantra that the government has no business to do business,” a senior official said.

The group on good governance also recommended mobile phone-based identity authentication for all Indians by December 2018 and mobile apps for providing 50 major government services by June 2017. Pushing for “faceless, paperless and cashless” government services, the group recommended publicising all vacancies on a common portal, and making applications as well as providing appointment letters online. Another suggestion by the group was to provide a 24x7 women’s helpdesk in each police station.

“All the groups have made a big push for digital governance. Also to bring in accountability, each of the groups has given specific time frames for implementing most of the suggestions,” a senior bureaucrat told HT.

For instance, the group on employment generation strategies has suggested linking all employment exchanges with an electronic platform by March 2017. Similarly, the group on health has recommended setting up an interoperable electronic health record of every citizen through the National e-Health Authority.

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