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Smell of loot in the air

  • Published at 12:01 am August 3rd, 2016
Smell of loot in the air

In spite of having the most bloated personnel structure in the industry, Air India continues to provide the worst service on the skies. Just recently, its on-time performance was shown to be much lower than other carriers that employ far less people per aircraft.

In short, Air India does less work through more personnel. And this colossal waste is funded by public money, that is, money hard-earned and produced by the Indian people.

That Air India still continues to be funded by public money with its very high employee per aircraft number, and low on-time performance, is a matter of shame.

However, the government seems to be in no mood to stop funding Air India, and stop haemorrhaging public money.

Thus, in an age of republicanism and democracy, the expensive maharajah burns public money like all maharajahs have done in the past. The turbanned maharajah icon of Air India is now a cruel, cruel joke.

The amount of subsidy that has been injected into Air India by the people of the various states of the Indian Union is huge. Since the government extracts this money directly from states and puts them in a common pool, this element of states is not apparent.

Since April 2012, the Union government has pumped in more than Rs22,280 crore to Air India’s core equity as part of its turnaround plan. This is part of the Rs30,000cr committed to Air India. Let’s realise what this subsidy is for.

This is for passenger air services -- a service that less than 5% of the population will ever avail and that too is the top 5% earning group of the population.

However, the subsidy for this would come from the people of the states at large, and hence this is the worst form of regressive subsidy where the poor are subsidising a company that provides services to the rich.

That scandal in broad daylight is probably a huge sign of the classist nature of public discourse and policy-making in the Indian Union.

But there is a huge hidden subsidy that no one talks about and that doesn’t seem to matter. I am employed in a government-funded institution.

One would think that public funds or government funds, since they are funds of the people, should be held to the highest level of thrift and value-for-money when spending, and should not be wasted one bit since I am spending money given in trust by the public. The standards of responsibility would have to be high.

So, let’s say you want to travel from point A to point B.

The best use of public money for such travel is obviously to find the cheapest ticket. However, that’s not what the government of India has stipulated.

It says, whatever the cost, the travel has to be on Air India. And Air India is not known for offering the cheapest tickets.

So for every ticket that is bought by a person of the government of India for official duty or otherwise, money is wasted, since Air India needs to get the business.

Think of the number of government employees and employees in government-aided institutions including state governments.

The number is huge, and this huge business goes to Air India without competition, without any concern for saving public money.

This farce of indirectly subsidising Air India by huge amounts goes to even greater farcical and economically damaging lengths when international travel is concerned.

Again, any sane individual or institution would opt for cheapest tickets by shortest route. Makes sense right?

Not if the travel is funded by the government. That is, the money managed by government of India, after it has been collected from the peoples of the states.

So, the travel has to be on Air India, whatever the price.

Recently, I’ve checked that on certain India-Europe flights, the lowest Air India economy class fares were double that of the cheapest available option.

That is the colossal waste that is done such that Air India receives indirect subsidy.

Air India is a sign of the Union government’s limitless power and control over resources of the Indian Union. It’s time that the Union government leaves our resources in the states and stops the present waste of public resources

What if Air India doesn’t go to a place? Then one needs to go to the nearest place where Air India does go, and from there, take a flight by one of its codeshare partners to the destination.

In short, it doesn’t matter how far from the final destination this “nearest” point is, this is what has to be done. Efficiency, financial management, and plain and simple logic be damned.

The Air India’s subsidy and loot of public funds has now been given a more organised structure through its special Leave Travel Concession (LTC) fares. Tens of lakhs of government employees are eligible for holiday travel costs by air, and this too has to be booked by Air India.

Shamefully, in this captive market, rather than give discounts to save money, Air India actually charges 50% to even 140% more than normal Air India fares, which aren’t the cheapest anyway. Should citizens of the Indian Union just stand aside and see this loot happening every day?

It is very clear that the Union government ministries are in connivance in this scheme of wasting public money through these indirect subsidies to Air India.

Does the government have no shame? This should be the subject of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), and must be challenged in court.

The reason that the Union government of India doesn’t want to stop subsidising Air India and divest it is because that will stop the use of Air India as a tool of politics. Air India is subsidised by people of all states of the Indian Union in proportion to the revenue such states produce.

Which is why Kolkata and Chennai, both major metros and capitals of states where none of the so-called national parties, namely Congress and BJP, have held power in the last nearly 50 years, or have any chance of winning power in the next 10 years, have no direct connectivity to London, in spite of the respective state government’s long standing request on this.

Contrast this to the direct flight to London from Gujarat’s Ahmedabad, announced by the ex-chief minister of Gujarat and the present prime minister of the Indian Union during his pubic rally amongst cheering NRIs in the Wembley stadium of London.

Aren’t route announcements supposed to be matters of Air India’s corporate policy and not a matter of political decision-making? How does the government get to politically decide where to spend what money, which routes to start where, when the money for Air India comes from all the states of the Indian Union?

Air India is a sign of the Union government’s limitless power and control over resources of the Indian Union.

It’s time that the Union government leaves our resources in the states and stops the present waste of public resources, including indirect subsidies, by selling off Air India to the highest bidder.

In a federal democratic republic, the people shouldn’t be forced to fund a white elephant called the Maharajah.

Garga Chatterjee is a political and cultural commentator. He can be followed on twitter @gargac.