Government to pursue Air India sale this fiscal, revised bidding norms likely soon

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NEW DELHI, JUNE 07
The government will continue to pursue disinvestment of debt-laden Air India and revised bidding norms are likely to be finalised soon, officials said, even as the stake sale proposal elicited muted response from the investors.
After no bidders put in their Expression of Interest (EoI) for the strategic disinvestment of Air India and its two subsidiaries last month, the civil aviation ministry is now gathering inputs from transaction advisor to understand the reasons on the failure to attract bidders.
“We had not envisaged a situation when there would be no bids. Disinvestment of Air India is very much on the table,” a government official said.
Asked if the government could look at selling entire 100 per cent in Air India, the official said, “We would look at simplifying some of the norms, but it would not be entirely different from what the thinking behind the disinvestment has been earlier”.
In a major setback, no initial bids were received for the Air India disinvestment when the deadline for submission of Expression of Interest (EoI) ended on May 31. EY is the transaction advisor for Air India disinvestment.
Officials said the ministry is consulting the transaction advisor on the inputs they have received from the market about the disinvestment plan. This would help in understanding what were the factors that may have held back the investors from bidding for Air India, they added.
A government official said the ministry would look at which provisions of the Preliminary Information Memorandum (PIM) needs to be reworked.
According to officials, more clarity might be required with regard to foreign fund managers in the context of Air India disinvestment. However, they did not elaborate on the issues involved.
The ministry is likely to first send the revised PIM to the evaluation committee, an inter-ministerial grouping under the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) and then to the core group on disinvestment headed by the cabinet secretary.
After deliberations by these two groupings, the revised proposal would be put up before the alternative mechanism for Air India disinvestment that is headed by the finance minister, by the end of this month, officials said. The government was to offload 76 per cent equity share capital of the national carrier as well as transfer the management control to private players, as per the PIM.
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.
On May 31, Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey had said the government was expecting better participation for the Air India stake sale and indicated that there could be a re-think on the strategy.
The alternative mechanism headed by the finance minister would decide the future course of action on Air India disinvestment, he had said soon after the EoI deadline ended.
As per the disinvestment proposal that failed to attract any bidders, over Rs 33,000 crore debt would have remained with Air India. The national carrier’s debt burden was about Rs 50,000 crore at the end of March 2017.

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