Indiscipline in AI will not be tolerated: Patel

Indiscipline in AI will not be tolerated: Patel

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel

"I had made it very clear to the management that you have full freedom and you must do whatever is necessary in these circumstances. This (strike) type of gross indiscipline will not be tolerated," Patel told Karan Thapar in an interview for the CNN-IBN news channel.

Asked whether more employees would be sacked for going on strike, he said, "If they (airline management) feel, they are free to do it, we will not come into the picture."
He distanced the government from the airline management's decision to de-recognise two unions and terminating the services of union leaders, saying it was for the management to take any decision.

Patel said the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines was a long-term process and there had been "opposition" from within and "systematic effort" was made to ensure that it did not succeed.

"I will tell you that there has been opposition from within and systematic effort to see that the merger does not succeed... by a lot of people in the organisation. Now some of the unions also have to be blamed for that," he said.

Accepting that merger was delayed but it was not a wrong step, he said merger is not a single day process. "It was envisaged as a three to five year process... to say that it is internally or inherently flawed is wrong.

"It has been delayed -- Yes. The fact is, who has to make it work -- the organisation. But I still feel, if these people do not make it work, they will be losers in the long run," Patel said, adding that the merger should not be blamed for all the problems of Air India.

"I would like to put across.... if there are any problems, if there are losses and if they are systemic issues.. please do not put one attribute of merger. That is another issue," he said.

"Even today, there are two streams in the organisation -- one is domestic operations, which was earlier the Indian Airlines, and the other is Air India. But that doesn't mean that anything is fundamentally wrong with the orgainsation. It takes time for the whole pyramid to build," he said.

The Civil Aviation Minister said, "It is not that I conceived the merger. This merger discussion is going on in the Ministry from the days of J R D Tata. .. chances were taken but nothing really fructified. Eventually it happened."

Patel referred to the mergers of Jet Airways-Air Sahara, Air Deccan-Kingfisher and internationally Continental and United Airlines in the US and asserted that "merger per se is absolutely sound".

Asked if Air India was not worth reviving and what would convince him to "shut it down and consigning it to history", he said, "I cannot take the call for shutting it down and consigning it to history. Its a larger call that government of India has to take. ..Don't say that everything is wrong in Air India."

"You are raising a larger issue whether the government should be running the airlines or not ... running a public sector airline is far different from private sector running airlines".
Asked why the government was not ready to privatise it and hand it over to professional hands, he said, "There were attempts in the past... during the NDA regime, when they tried there were few takers and that is the reason why it didn't get privatised."

On whether new Air India COO Gustav Baldauf would be given a free hand to operate or would he face interference, Patel said, "Not at all. He will be (given freedom)... even today there is full freedom, do not think we run it from Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan".

Patel said the new COO and the independent Board of Directors were undertaking a lot of activism to revive the airlines. "They are free to do whatever they think in their wisdom is good for Air India."

Observing that there was a misconception that "everything happens out of the Ministry" in Air India, he said "unfortunately, for all the bad things that happen there we get blame. Its okay... I mean we are not absolving ourselves... we stand by but the fact is they have the autonomy and I wish they exercise it in the best interests of Air India."

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