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Congress questions Centre on hiding names of Air India bidders; govt cites rules change

The details were sought in reference to restrictions on the Transaction Advisor, Ernst & Young LLP India, from publicly disclosing the details of the qualified interested bidders of Air India who have responded to and have been cleared in the evaluation of Expression of Interest 

Poulomi Saha | February 6, 2021 | Updated 21:28 IST
Congress questions Centre on hiding names of Air India bidders; govt cites rules change
Air India disinvestment

The Congress party has asked Modi government to disclose the names of entities who have bid for state-owned carrier Air India. Congress MP Manish Tewari on Thursday asked an unstarred question in Parliament seeking details of the eleventh corrigenda issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in relation to the sale of Air India. The details were sought in reference to restrictions on the Transaction Advisor, Ernst & Young LLP India, from publicly disclosing the details of the qualified interested bidders (QIBs) of Air India who have responded to and have been cleared in the evaluation of Expression of Interest (EOI).

In response to Tewari's question, the civil aviation ministry said, "As per the process of the disinvestment, the Expression of Interest in response to the Preliminary Information Memorandum (PIM) by any group or entity were to be submitted to the Transaction Advisor. As per eleventh corrigendum issued in this regard, post completion of the evaluation of the EOIs received, the Transaction Advisor will directly intimate the Qualified Interested Bidders about their qualification and the next steps for the proposed transaction."

Putting this response on Twitter, Manish Tewari said, "Read this answer on Air India disinvestment carefully. Ministry of Civil Aviation does not even want to make the names of the Qualified Interested Bidders public. Why the secrecy and opaqueness? Let the transparency shine on the process. Make names of QIBs public."

The PIM inviting Expression of Interest for strategic disinvestment of 100% of government of India's stake in the national carrier, along with 100% stake in Air India Express Ltd and 50% holding in Air India SATS was issued on 27 January, 2020. The final deadline for submitting expression of interest by potential bidders, after few extensions due to COVID restrictions, was 14 December 2020. Last month, on 5 January, the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management was to have finally intimated the qualified interested bidders for further course of action. However, the details of QIBs have been kept confidential.

On Friday, the Ministry of Civil Aviation tweeted a document, which said, "The Transaction Advisors should strictly maintain the confidentiality of the potential bidders from all persons including persons in government including the CPSE and non-Government. However, if required, information may be shared with specified agencies in National Interest upon an advice by the Administrative Ministry in writing."

The document read that each qualified interested bidder will be assigned a 'code' that will mask their identity and will be used for all activities including due diligence, site visits, biddings etc.

Further, the Ministry of Civil Aviation stated, "a non-disclosure undertaking should be signed by the potential bidder, inter alia, undertaking that the entity and its employees shall not reveal their identity and/or contact any member of the CPSE or the Administrative Ministry/DIPAM and also keep the data/information of CPSE (shared as part of transaction) strictly confidential.

Several names have done the rounds including Tata Sons, New York-based Interups Inc and a consortium of Air India employees, as having expressed interest in buying Air India. But there has been no official confirmation of the same.

Also read: Air India disinvestment: Qualified bidders to be announced on Jan 5

Also read: LIC IPO likely after Oct; BPCL, Air India disinvestment by Sept: govt official

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