If nationalisation has failed in various sectors, can privatisation be the panacea for all the ills? Soroor Ahmed
At the very outset it must be understood that the privatisation of any airline does not amount to the total withdrawal of the government from the civil aviation sector. The airports will continue to be a government property and the management of the air traffic control would also remain in its hand. It is also true that some of the functioning of airports have been outsourced under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
This issue can be understood through a simple example. If any state government enters into a deal with a private company and hands over all its buses to it as its road transport corporation is running in loss, it does not mean that all the roads on which these buses are to ply are also sold to the same party. In the same way all the bus depots are not necessarily given to it. At most PPP model can be adopted for maintaining them.
But if the roads are in horrible state and bridges are in dilapidated condition, the private party may not be able to run the bus service on time and provide comfortable journey to the passengers even if the crew members are very efficient and smart. In such a situation, the passengers may opt for other means, most possibly trains or their own vehicles.
The story of civil aviation is somewhat similar. As the sky is open and all the international flights operate in many of the airports across India, the whole functioning needs to be kept up to the mark. And on this count, as per the international standard, the safety record of the Air Traffic Controllers in India is satisfactory – if not very good. The Air Traffic Controllers, the unsung workforce, are government of India employees.
Thus the big poser is: why nobody talks about bureaucratic red-tapism in the functioning of the entire air service? After all there is little scope for total privatisation of this sector.
True, some airports may have been outsourced or built on Public-Private partnership. But it is also a fact that the government has adopted PPP model in several other sectors. At many places road and bridge construction works too have been outsourced.
So, if Air India is running in loss, it does not necessarily mean that privatisation is the best solution. After all, many private airlines across the globe have turned bankrupt. In India Kingfisher Airlines and Kingfisher Red are the most notorious examples. Their boss Vijay Mallya has brought bad name to the country.
Why blame just Air India when the list is much longer. Jet Airways, Sahara Airlines, Damania Airways, Air Deccan, Air Pegasus and more than a dozen big and small ones have been grounded in the last quarter century alone – not to speak of others in the distant past.
So if this is the fate of privatisation then one must be wary of this very concept. After all there are no bureaucrats or government employees here. Then who should be made the scapegoat.
However, the champions of privatisation in the media do not want to highlight this fact. They don’t want to accuse the money-minded capitalist class and their executives as they work for them. Air India, the national carrier of India, has run into loss because of several other reasons, not just because of its employees and officials. If workforce alone is to be blamed, why thousands of private companies and mills, not just airlines, have become sick.
What about the telecommunication sector where several private companies have virtually disappeared from the scene – once again not to speak of BSNL alone. This includes Reliance Communications Ltd of Anil Ambani. His elder brother, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Info Ltd. is largely responsible for it.
Predatory pricing and other dirty games played by the big multi-national corporates are also responsible for the collapse of relatively smaller players. In the capitalist setup, the big fish gobbles up the small fry.
Air India may be accused of all its inefficiency but it is also a fact that it has been involved in several rescue and evacuation operations, be it at the time of natural disasters or other crises. The most significant one was the air-lifting of lakhs of stranded Indians from the Gulf after Iraqi dictator Saddam Husein’s decision to invade Kuwait on August 2, 1990 and subsequent NATO action against Iraq.
Besides, Air India has been performing the duty to ferry pilgrims. In various places it used to run flights which may not be apparently profitable for it. But these small places have been brought on the air map just because of the larger national interest. Will any private airline perform these duties? Or their eyes will only be on profit.
If nationalisation has failed in various sectors, can privatisation be the panacea for all the ills? The Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation policy adopted by India in 1991 have also exposed the ugly side of capitalism. The euphoria created in the early years is diminishing day by day.
No doubt, Tatas in general, have a better success rate. The credit goes to them for launching the first airline way back in 1932, but the company was nationalised in 1953. Sixty-eight years later the scenario is much different. The century old giant will have to fly in vitiated air. The airline in its new avatar will have to confront the challenge of low-pricing, stiff competition and be prepared for dirty tricks being played by many others in this field. Apart from that the economic scenario too is not very bright and corona impact is still being felt. The take-off may not be with a bang.
Not only that, the new airline will have to fly safe and avoid being hit by salvos often fired by some loose cannons in the present establishment. Do not forget what has been said about Infosys and Tata itself recently.