Talking tough, Civil Aviation minister Ajit Singh tonight told striking Air India pilots that they should first decide what they want -- either keep the national carrier afloat or shut it down.
In candid remarks, Singh also said government cannot and should not run any industry, especially the service industry, suggesting that government employees do not have the attitude of treating customers as king.
"If they want to shut down Air India they can do it very easily. And they have to decide what they want to do. It is not only Air India pilots, but all employees should feel they have a stake in Air India's success," Singh told a news channel.
He was responding to a question whether the government was ready to sack more pilots if they don't relent.
"Air India employees should realise that it is their airline...Their progress and jobs depend if airline does well. If they want to tip it over the brink they can do it easily. First thing they have to decide what they want to do," he said.
At the same time, Singh assured that the government would consider the issues raised by pilots and the recommendations of Dharmadhikari Report on integration of employees following the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines.
Asked whether the government can close down Air India, he said: "But if you consider if we completely shut down Air India, there will be other repercussions. Of course, that vacuum can be filled but it will take time and meanwhile the passengers will pay. The airfares will shoot up and they have 17 per cent of traffic today. You suddenly can't fill up that gap."
Singh also said the time of national carriers is gone and only very small nations have so-called national carriers now.
"But even if we want to disinvest first we have to bring it to that level so that any body will be interested in investing in Air India," he said.
"I believe that the government cannot and should not run any industry especially service industry. Because in service industry customer is the king and the government employees have a different attitude. That attitude is different," he said.
Singh also expressed the hope that the strike will end soon and pilots will realise that there are other ways to address and redress their grievances.
"Strike is illegal to begin with. Because for a strike also they have to give a prior notice and you cannot suddenly disrupt the operations and then expect discussions. Discussions will continue," he said.
Singh said Air India has been in big trouble for sometime now and they haven't paid their pilots, they have huge outstanding dues to Airport Authority of India and to oil companies.
"The Government has given a huge amount of 30,000 crores over a period of eight years to make them profitable... We have set up many milestones in that to meet the equipment usage and standards and turn around time yield and all time performance. We have set all these standards," he said.