A parliamentary panel had hauled up his predecessor for doing a "sloppy job" on monitoring the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines. Since taking over the Civil Aviation Ministry last December, RLD chief Ajit Singh has been busy dealing with the flawed merger's repercussions, the ongoing pilot strike being the latest. In an exclusive chat with Sebastian PT, Singh discusses his roadmap for the airline's revival. Excerpts:
Q. Do you think the Air India and Indian Airlines merger was a flawed idea?
A. In retrospect, it is easy for people to say things if things don't pan out as planned. At the time of the merger
it must have seemed the right thing to do. Q. How fast can the Dharmadhikari Committee report be implemented?
A. As suggested by the Dharmadhikari Committee
, a four-member Implementation-cum-Anomoly Committee headed by Nasir Ali will submit its proposals in 45 days. They will be looking to all the anomalies raised by the employees. We shall get into the implementation part soon after that.
The Dharmadhikari Committee says that by its implementation there will be a saving of about Rs 260 crore in the wages bill. The report also calls for the abolition of the pay-link incentive and this will be subsumed into the basic pay to the extent allowed by the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) guidelines.Q. Is privatisation of Air India on the cards?
A.There is nothing on that front being considered now. Q. The failure of the integration of the human resources has been obviously the reason for upheavals. Some say only 60-70% of integration has taken place,
A.There may be different figures. Basically, the fact is HR
has not been integrated. A level mapping exercise for employees from the two erstwhile airlines shall be undertaken. This will be key to the successful merger of manpower as all employees will be placed in a unified pay-scale and common seniority.
The Dharmadhikari panel has also recommended a fair and comprehensive promotion policy
by constituting Departmental Promotion Committees (DPCs). Each DPC will have a fair representation of the erstwhile AI and IA. Q. Will there be a partial shutdown of Air India?
A.I hope not. Q. What are your plans to improve the situation now?
A.We are trying to resolve the problems
. The implementation of the Dharmadhikari Report would be the first. We have also formed a committee to look into all the routes and tell us which are profitable and the reasons for those that are not profitable and how to turn it around. We have asked the examination system of the pilots to be changed; the minimum qualification to become a pilot needs to be changed too. So, a lot of things are going on. Q. What was the rationale behind removing Air India's first right of refusal on international routes?
A.There never was a first right of refusal. The Cabinet said that while allotting the traffic rights under the bilateral agreement, Air India's place and capacity should be given due consideration. If they (Air India) don't have a plan or a plane, then why should not we give right to other Indian airlines. Air India still gets the first priority.Q. What happens to the Rs 30,000-crore relief package in the wake of the current strike? Rs 4,000 crore is slated to come in this financial year.
A.The Cabinet has approved it. We still have to receive the money. Q. Do you have any regrets for having got the Civil Aviation portfolio with all its turbulences?
A. There are indeed a lot of problems and challenges. These are entirely different from other ministries. But I welcome the challenges.