People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 23

June 06, 2010


Air India Affair:

Punish the Real Culprits


Dipankar Mukherjee


LOOK at the contrast! When British Airways got a judicial injunction on 18 May which halted a strike planned by thousands of its cabin crew on issues of jobs, pay and staffing level, the union’s joint leaders, Tony Hoodley and Derek Simpson, said “This judgement is an absolute disgrace and will rank as a landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action”. They said its implication is that it was now all but impossible to take legally-protected strike action against any employer who wishes to seek an injunction on even the most trivial grounds. The unions therefore went for an appeal and got a landmark ruling in its favour for strike on dispute over changes to pay and working conditions.


Just a week later on 26 May, a similar injunction was granted by the Delhi High Court to halt the protest action by Air India Employees triggered by the provocative actions of Air India management to gag the unions from giving their views on issues concerning the safety of the Airlines after the Mangalore crash as well as to continue an atmosphere of uncertainty about payment of wages and other wage related issues. The reaction of the union/association leaders who had earlier served a notice of strike form 31 May was totally conciliatory. They withdrew the protest action immediately during the conciliation meeting itself which was in progress before the Chief Labour Commissioner, Ministry of Labour, Government of India and cooperated fully in restoring normalcy in Air India operations.



In the British Airways (BA) case, after the injuction was granted, BA chief executive Walli Walsh said he hoped the injunction gave the union a chance to pause and consider again the very fair offer BA had made. Earlier he had spent three hours at the conciliation meeting with the union leaders. Similarly transport secretary Philip Hammond held separate talks with both sides. Walsh further summed up by saying “Relations between the two sides were strained. But I genuinely believe it is time to move on. We have an opportunity to pause and reflect and hopefully we will be able to make progress”.


But what was our “tinpot dictator” CMD of Air India Arvind Jadav’s response? “Let the government give me a free hand, I will see every one is made accountable”. The civil aviation minister IPL, sorry, Praful Patel nods his head and gives him a free hand reportedly after consultations with the prime minister and finance minister. In the process Jadav and Patel forgot there is a labour minister in the country under whom there is a Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) who is mandated to promote peaceful and harmonious industrial relations in the central sphere through prevention and settlement of industrial disputes in the industries for which central government is the appropriate government. The disputes on which the Air India employees gave strike notice and were forced to resort to protest action on 25 and 26 May 2010 were very much under conciliation process under CLC. But still both the labour ministry and the CLC were contemptuously ignored by M/s Patel and Jadav as if they did not exist. The Air India management unilaterally issued termination orders to 58 employees and suspended another 41employees as part of what they called accountability fixation. Not only that, reminiscent of emergency days, they withdrew the recognition of two major unions without showing any reason and sealed their offices.


From the day one of the protest action by the employees, the corporate media went berserk on their own agenda “Privatise Air India” and for that purpose they hailed Patel-Jadav duo for their “Trade Union busting” operation. It appeared from the columns of the walk the talk editors and sermons from TV anchors that for all the ills in Air India viz financial losses, tragic accident at Mangalore, the genuine inconvenience of passengers in Air India, it is the unions and employees who are solely responsible.




The 4th Report of Committee of Public Undertakings (COPU), headed by V  Kishore Chandra S Deo, a veteran Congress MP, placed in parliament on 12 March 2010, exposes the real culprits responsible for the present status of affairs of Air India who have not been made accountable so far only to help private corporate to grab civil aviation sector including Air India. COPU was formed much before formation of Standing Committees and JPCs. COPU is one of the oldest parliamentary committee formed to propose ways and means for effective functioning of PSUs.


The Committee says:

The Committee find it pertinent to note that in the pre-merged scenario, Indian Airlines had registered profits between 2003 and 2006 and so had Air India between 2001 and 2006. In 2006-07, the losses incurred by both companies totalled Rs 688.22 crore (Rs 447.93 crore-AI + Rs 240.29 crore-IA). In 2007-08, the merged airline suffered losses totaling Rs 2226 crore, Rs 5488 crore in 2008-09, while the projections for the losses in 2009-10 are even higher. The multiplication of losses suggested that something is radically wrong either with the projections of the benefits of the merger or with the implementation of the merger.”


Who is accountable for the increasing losses after 2007-2008 or wrong projection or implementation? Has Jadav the present chief executive of Air Inida no responsibility or accountability to share?


COPU examined the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines in depth and observed:

The Committee note with concern that the merger of the erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India was an ill-conceived and erroneous decision neither arrived at by the two Airlines on their own accord nor mutually considered by them to be in their best interests. On the contrary, in the years preceding the merger, the two Airlines had finalised grandiloquent plans for acquisition of new fleet and had even placed orders in their efforts to revive their respective businesses which were at that point of time grappling with the changed market scenario brought about by the increasing private competition ushered in by the Open Sky Policy. At this juncture, Indian Airlines, which had established unparalleled Brand recall value across the country, was rebranded and “Indian suddenly appeared in the skies without any convincing rationale drawing humongous costs from the public exchequer. As all would well appreciate, the importance of brand equity which is phenomenal both in terms of goodwill and performance was frittered away with this whimsical decision. The Committee also observe with bafflement that while the merger of these two airlines had extensively been deliberated upon since the early 1970s, and the refrain all through had been to tread cautiously, it was abruptly done in 2006-07, throwing all caution to the wind. The Committee could find no justifiable explanation for this abrupt haste. The Committee would like to be apprised of the agencies/individuals responsible for taking such a whimsical decision and urge suitable action so that such decision leading to intangible loss to a PSU does not recur in future.”


Who was responsible for the abrupt haste in changing of name to “Indian” and in going ahead with merger of Indian Airlines and Air India? Praful Patel still brags on the TV channels that these were his wise decisions which has been termed as “whimsical” by COPU. Will the PM or FM have the courage to sack or suspend this minister or bureaucrats guilty of taking a decision leading to the huge intangible and tangible loss to Air India? If the employees can be sacked without showing any reason for the so called Rs 12.5 crore loss due to protest action, what action has been taken against these guilty men, responsible for loss of thousands of crores of rupees due to merger and post merger failings?


Obviously when Patel and Jadav talked time and again about accountability of employees they did not probably read the following recommendation of the committee

The Committee note that a mechanism for ensuring accountability in the implementation of the entire merger process is conspicuous by its absence. The position of CMD, designated as the Merger Champion, was turned into a musical chair of sorts during such a crucial phase in the consolidation of the merged entity, absolving the occupants of any liability to face the accountability. This in turn gave scope for literally passing the buck. The Committee recommend that responsibilities for managers put in charge of these pending matters should be properly defined and stringent accountability procedures put in place to ensure timely execution of defined tasks.”


Who is responsible for these musical-chair games leading to the present incumbent whose only contribution so far has been to disturb the industrial peace in Air India to hasten either a lock out or privatisation.


How the private airlines were helped in advance, is clear when the committee says:

However, the Committee cannot ignore reports appearing in National Newspapers about the public carriers being disadvantaged by the allocation of prime commercial routes to private airlines such as Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines and the Emirates and also the allocation of time-slots on common routes in such a way that the private carriers would get the bulk of passengers on such routes. The Committee are of the firm view that it is imperative that NACIL should have lucrative air routes as these are required for its profitability and, in a way, for its very sustenance.”


But then who does not know that Patel has been the unofficial spokesman for these private airlines. It is his intervention which ensured that the excise duty on Aviation fuel is now less than that of diesel. The Kingfisher owner, Vijay Mallya, last year threatened strike by private airlines if stimulus package was not offered to them by the government. What action was taken? Suspension or termination?




COPU in its report had pre-warned two months ago about the ongoing provocations by the Air India Management, when it observed:

The Committee note that there had been a large number of reports and representations from the employees and the staff of both the companies. As is evident, there is a high level of disenchantment and discontentment with the process of merger. Employees of any organisation and their welfare are the key to the success of any organisation. Customers can be served well if the employees are well trained and motivated. Lamentably, employees of the merged entity are unduly discriminated. The Committee are concerned to note that this manner of riding roughshod over its employees has become a general perception rather than the general regret of the Company.”


Did the corporate media read the COPU report? It will be a disgrace to the Indian polity if the manner of riding roughshod over the employees’ by the real guilty duo of Air India i.e. Patel and Jadav are allowed if not partronised by prime minister and finance minister, to cover up their acts of omission by making unions and employees as the scapegoat. A minister who was more interested in valuation of IPL bid rather than Air India valuation has no business to authorise a chief executive who was responsible for diverting aircrafts to do charter flights for IPL teams causing inconvenience to thousands of passengers on the advice of daughter of his boss, to teach accountability / responsibility to the employees of and unions of Air India. Mr. Prime Minister, if you really care for accountability, you should first take action against real culprits as revealed in the report of COPU. These culprits cannot be allowed to take law in their own hands to victimise employees who have put in years of dedicated service to Indian Airlines / Air India. The termination and suspension orders should be immediately revoked. The recognition of unions should be restored and labour ministry / Chief Labour Commissioner, the nodal agency for settling industrial dispute, should be entrusted to resolve the pending issues.