Panel report on AI-IA merger set to be made public

Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh is expected to announce today the highlights of the Dharmadhikari committee report on the functioning of Air India. The committee headed by retired Justice Dharmadhikari was set up to examine issues arising from the merger of domestic carrier Indian Airlines and national carrier Air India in 2007.

Streamlining the promotion policy of Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots in order to bring about parity in opportunities and pay – a key issue that has led to constant friction between AI and IA pilots and led to the current strike by pilots who were with AI before the merger – has been thoroughly looked into by the committee.

The Dharmadhikari committee submitted its report on 31 January, and the government has been mulling it for the four months since then. ''If the government had acted faster in the matter, the current strike that has crippled Air India's international operations could have been averted,'' said an observer of the crisis.

The four-member committee has suggested several steps on various human resources and industrial relations issues to integrate the employees of the two carriers – which has not happened for five years since the merger. It has also looked into pension schemes, gratuity and other terminal benefits.

The report has also recommended harmonising the pay structure and incentives for Air India staffers with those of best practices followed by other airlines and public sector undertakings.

According to a report, the committee has accepted 1 April as the date of merger of the two airlines; and said all decisions taken by the Air India management after that should stand.

It has also recommended a drastic cut in free passages for pilots and other senior employees. At present employees are entitled to a certain fixed number of free passages – which include return tickets – even after retirement.

This recommendation, if implemented, is bound to further raise the hackles of pilots and others who regard free passages as a right, which they will not give up easily.