Noted industrialist and former Air India board member Anand Mahindra today said that tough action was required to turn around the fortunes of the national carrier, with ‘full autonomy’ for the chairman while insulated from political pressure.
A day after the deadline for submission of initial bids for Air India stake sale ended with no bidders coming forward, the Mahindra Group Chairman said, “I think that zero interest in the sale has demonstrated to the people that tough action towards a turnaround is needed.”
In a series of tweets, he said there would be widespread support for swift and decisive action, adding that this is a ‘political opportunity.’
“Resolve that a sale will be made but only after a turnaround,” Mahindra said, suggesting appointing a government official with ‘the potential and passion of an E Sreedharan as chairman and CEO.’ Sreedharan is known for his work with Delhi Metro and Konkan Railways.
He also noted that the ‘chairman and CEO’ should be provided full autonomy with a target horizon for a turnaround. Air India is currently headed by a chairman and managing director and there is no particular post of chief executive Officer.
Mahindra, who had served as an independent director on Air India board for about a year from March 2010, also suggested that it's time to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Nearly a year after the government initiated the disinvestment process for debt-laden Air India, no expression of interest was received from any bidder as the deadline ended on May 31.
The government proposed to offload 76 percent equity share capital of the national carrier as well as transfer the management control to private players, as per the preliminary information memorandum. The transaction would involve Air India, its low cost arm Air India Express and Air India SATS Airport Services Pvt. Ltd. The latter is an equal joint venture between the national carrier and Singapore-based SATS Ltd.
In nearly two decades, this is the second time that Air India stake sale has not taken off. Back in 2001, during the then NDA government, the disinvestment process was scrapped.
Now, the alternative mechanism headed by the finance minister would decide on the future course of action for Air India.