It is reported recently that Air India had to cancel several flights as the Oil companies refused to refuel Indian Airlines planes in Jaipur and Kochi. It is reported that Air India has an outstanding amount of over 2000 crores owing to the oil companies and the some of the oil companies have put Air India on ‘cash and carry’ mode.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs in Air India? Some in media are trying to put the blame on strike of the AI pilots. But this is nothing but a crude attempt to hide the real reasons. Recall that one of the demands of pilots for which they had gone on strike was that how the Air India management had run up a debt of Rs. 36,000 crores in just 4 years must be investigated by the CBI. Contrast this amount with the total revenue loss suffered as a result of flight cancellations from 27 April to 3 May of around Rs. 100 crore.

What is clear is that Air India management has deliberately turned a healthy public sector unit into a sick one. Can the pilots be blamed for the current state of affairs of Air India? Certainly not. It was not the pilots but the management that took decisions like drastically increasing the order of aircrafts from Boeing company, cutting down Air India flights from more than two dozen profitable routes, and other decisions that has financially crippled the company.

Even before independence, the big industrialists of India had created a plan for the industrialization of India, which was known as "Bombay Plan" or "Tata-Birla Plan". Massive public assets in the core sector such as steel, airlines, railways, post & telegraph, electricity, etc. were created as part of this plan. The idea was to get the infrastructure and heavy industry, which needs huge funds and does not yield quick returns, built through public funds. The Bombay Plan envisaged that at in the second phase these would be handed over to the private sector.

What we have been seeing in the past two decades is the implementation of the second phase of the Tata-Birla plan. The NDA government started a separate Ministry of Disinvestment and sold out public sector undertaking such as Modern Foods, BALCO and VSNL with huge assets to private companies Hindustan Levers, Sterlite and Tata, respectively. They, however, had to face widespread protest against the blatant loot of the public assets.
From then on, the government has resorted to crooked ways to accomplish its plan of privatisation. The public sector units that are being eyed by the big corporations are deliberately being made sick so that a media campaign can be launched that public sector is unviable, that it needs to be privatized otherwise it will bleed the exchequer. What is being done to Air India can only be understood in this context.

Militant struggle by the AI pilots has called the government bluff. They have highlighted the scandalous acts of the government controlled management that is responsible for Air India’s sickness and have brought them to the public notice through their strike. It is up to each one of us, who want to ensure that the assets built from public money to be deployed for serving the people, to speak out and defeat the plans of a handful of vested interests.

Prof. Bharat Seth

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