Air India: BJP MPs trash House panel’s report opposing divestment

Draft report was withdrawn under the stewardship of BJP’s Lok Sabha member Rakesh Singh amid the absence of the Parliamentary panel’s chairman Derek O’Brien

india Updated: Jan 15, 2018 20:45 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Air India,Air India disinvestment,Parliamentary Panel
The debt-laden airline would be divided into core airline business, regional arm, ground handling and engineering operation, according to the report.(HT File Photo)

Taking advantage of the absence of chairman Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress, BJP lawmakers who are members of the parliamentary committee on transport forcibly withdrew the panel’s “adverse” draft report on Air India’s divestment.

The draft report had slammed the government’s plan to disinvest the ailing national carrier and suggested that the airline must continue to be state-owned, albeit with less government control. It gave as many as eleven reasons on why the government should not sell stake in AI to other airlines.

At Monday’s meeting of the parliamentary committee on transport, sparks flew between the BJP’s Lok Sabha member Rakesh Singh and members of the Congress and other Opposition parties after he proposed the withdrawal of the controversial report. Singh acted as the chairman in the absence of the Trinamool leader and adopted a proposal to withdraw the draft report.

The draft report created a stir even as the government said that it would go ahead and divest part of its stake in the loss-making state-owned airline. On Monday, Bloomberg News first reported that the government’s plan involves breaking the airline up into four to facilitate its sale process.

On Monday, the BJP claimed that all parliamentary rules were followed in its trashing of the draft report and that the ruling National Democratic Alliance has a majority in the 31-member panel. O’Brien said the move proved the BJP wants “to destroy all institutions” . “ We will counsel them,” he added.

According to two eye witnesses, CPI(M)’s Ritabrata Banerjee, Congress’ Kumari Selja and Trinamool’s Arpita Ghosh engaged in a heated debate with the BJP lawmakers and eventually walked out before the draft report was withdrawn.

BJP leaders claimed that on January 8, a memorandum signed by 16 panel members, all from the NDA, had objected to the draft report. They raked up the same memorandum on Monday— the agenda of the meeting was to discuss development of Buddhist Circuit—and rejected the Air India draft report. Draft reports are typically prepared by the chairman and circulated before being amended, accepted, or rejected by the members.

“Between 2012 and 2017, Rs 25,000 crores has been pumped into Air India. We have to decide if the country needs more anganwadi centres, more education facilities for women, better infrastructure or continue to give money to the white elephant called Air India,” said a BJP member of the panel who asked not to be identified.

The BJP member also pointed out that the Opposition members of the panel seemed to be waiting for an opportunity to adopt the draft report and cause embarrassment to the government in Parliament.

“Once adopted, the Opposition leaders could have shown that the entire panel, including the National Democratic Alliance members, are opposed to disinvesting the government’s stake in the national carrier. We did not give them that chance.”

First Published: Jan 15, 2018 20:45 IST