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Tata Group Better Corporate For Handing Over Air India, Says Montek Singh Ahluwalia

Tata Sons has emerged as the top bidder for the takeover of the state-run airline but the bid is yet to be approved by a group of ministers headed by Home Minister Amit Shah.

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No other corporate house in India is in a better position than Tata group for the takeover of debt-laden airline Air India, former deputy chairman of erstwhile Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said on Thursday.

Tata Sons has emerged as the top bidder for the takeover of the state-run airline but the bid is yet to be approved by a group of ministers headed by Home Minister Amit Shah.

"You can't have a better corporate, with a better position than the Tatas, we can hand it (state-run airline Air India) over," he said while replying to a question in a virtual event.

"I think the notion that you are going to stick with an airline for 20 years and allow it to run massive losses because it helps you evacuate a few hundred Indians once in 20 years from the neighbourhood is just rubbish," he added.

Financial bids put in by the salt-to-software conglomerate and SpiceJet promoter Ajay Singh were opened a few days back and were vetted by the Core Group of Secretaries on Disinvestment headed by the Cabinet Secretary earlier this month.

The bids were evaluated against the reserve price set and Tatas emerged as the highest bidder.

The other members of the panel called Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism (AISAM) are Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia. Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy (JRD) Tata founded the airline in 1932. It was called Tata Airlines then.

In 1946, the aviation division of Tata Sons was listed as Air India and in 1948, Air India International was launched with flights to Europe. The international service was among the first public-private partnerships in India, with the government holding 49 per cent, the Tatas keeping 25 per cent and the public owning the rest.

In 1953, Air India was nationalised.

The government is seeking to sell 100 per cent of its stake in the state-owned national airline, including Air India's 100 per cent shareholding in AI Express Ltd and 50 per cent in Air India SATS Airport Services Private Ltd.

The stake sale process, which began in January 2020, faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2021, the government asked potential bidders to put in financial bids. Tata Group was among the multiple entities that had put in an initial expression of interest (EoI) in December 2020 for buying the Maharaja. 

(PTI)