Air India refuses to issue air tickets to govt agencies over overdue payments

Cash-strapped national carrier Air India has refused to issue air tickets to various government agencies on credit basis till all pending payments are cleared. Government and its agencies owe Air India around Rs268 crore in pending dues for availing flight tickets on credit basis.

'Air India has stopped issuing air tickets to various government agencies on credit basis till the due amount is cleared. Around Rs268 crore worth of dues are pending with different government agencies,'' ANO quoted an Air India spokesperson as saying.
"Various agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, Information Bureau, Central Labour Institute, Border Security Force and the Indian Audit Board, have been told that tickets would not be issued to their officials on credit. Each of these agencies owe more than Rs10 lakh to the national carrier," the Air India spokesperson said.
Air India’s move comes at a time when the government is finding it difficult to sell off its stake in the loss-making state carrier. 
Ever since its inception as a state-run airline, Air India has been used and misused by government and its various agencies for free travel to the detriment of its fiscal health. In fact it was this, combined with corruption in all dealings, including purchase of aircraft that failed Air India.
Thousands of airline employees are mulling to take either the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) route to recover their salary dues or declare a general strike to put pressure on the government from go privatising the national carrier.
This was discussed during a meeting of the recognised AI unions and other employee bodies in Mumbai.
However, a final course of action will be decided after further discussion and is expected soon. If the AI employees choose to go for strike, it will most likely be initiated from 8 January 2020.
The decision to consider either the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) route or the strike comes days after the airline`s pilots and engineers demanded immediate payment of their dues.
"We all met today and have decided that the privatisation exercise should cease immediately and some clarity be provided first," a senior office bearer of engineers' union said in Mumbai.
"The country cannot afford to lose the national carrier which provides affordable travel options to passengers. It is also an engine of economic growth during the time of slowdown," he added
On Monday, the airline`s pilot union had requested the Centre to allow them to quit the passenger carrier without serving their notice periods.
"We are in a state of distress," a senior officer office-bearer of the pilots union, the Indian Commercial Pilots` Association (ICPA), said.
"If the government wants to close down the airline, then they should say so and relieve us as soon as possible so that we can find alternative employment. We also want our notice period should also be waived-off."
"It is unfair for the Government of India to keep us bonded with the notice period while we are not being paid on time and our dues are not cleared," the ICPA stated in a letter to civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Monday.
Puri had made a statement that if Air India is not privatised by 31 March 2020, the airline will be shut down.
"With this uncertainty over the survival of our national carrier and with no `Plan B`, we request you to ensure that we are not treated like bonded labour and allow us to quit Air India without serving the notice period and clear all our dues immediately," the ICPA said.
At present, the union has 800 pilots as its members. As per the letter, currently, 65 pilots have tendered their resignations and are serving the six-month notice period which is due for completion "very soon".
The centre is likely to issue the expression of interest (EoI) for divestment of its stake in national passenger carrier during the first month of 2020.
A panel comprising home minister Amit Shah, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, commerce and railway minister Piyush Goyal and the civil aviation minister is in charge of the divestment process. 
Air India has a total debt of about Rs58,000 crore. The cumulative loss of the national carrier is to the tune of Rs70,000 crore. In the financial year ending March 31, 2019, the airline is estimated to have had a loss of Rs7,600 crore.