‘Government should protect interests of Air India’s SC, ST and OBC employees’

‘Only one subsidiary of Air India that operates flights has been sold to Tata. Most of the employees of this subsidiary company are pilots and air hostesses. The other two subsidiaries will remain with the government,’ says Pradeep Dhobley, president, Air Corporation OBC Employees Association

Air India, one of the largest Public Sector Units (PSUs) of the Government of India, has been sold to the highest bidder, Tata Sons, for Rs 18,000 crore. This has raised concerns about the future of the employees of Air India. Reservations were implemented in Air India because it was a government undertaking. What will become of that? The Government of India has no policy regarding reservation in the private sector. Pradeep Dhobley, president of Air Corporation OBC Employees Federation, talked about this and other issues with Forward Press Hindi Editor Nawal Kishore Kumar. Edited excerpts:    

Air India has been sold to Tata Sons. Your take?

There is nothing good about privatization. It only harms. All trade unions have issued a joint statement, flaying the decision of the Government of India. Air India has been virtually gifted to the Tatas. Air India owns aircraft worth Rs 32,000 crore. According to the deal, the Tatas will pay Rs 18,000 crore, of which Rs 15,000 will go into repaying part of Air India’s debt. Air India’s total debt is Rs 62,000, hence the Government of India will still have a liability of Rs 47,000 crore. The government has thus privatized its assets but not its liabilities. The Tatas will also get landing and parking slots, brand value and international flying rights as bonus.  

Air India was never incurring operational losses. What was bleeding it white was the Rs 62,000-crore loan and the interest on it. It gobbled up its profits. The government is to be blamed for this debt, which was mainly the result of the costly acquisition of aircraft from Boeing. The trade unions believe that the Tatas have got the profit-making unit of Air India virtually for free. Profit has been privatized, losses remain public.   

There are concerns about the future of the employees of Air India. 

Yes, there are. Trade unions have also raised this issue. Most of the Air India employees are past 45 years of age and Tata may decide to sack them. I want to clarify that only one subsidiary of Air India that operates flights has been sold to Tata. Most of the employees of this subsidiary company are pilots and air hostesses. The other two subsidiaries will remain with the government for the time being. One of them handles the engineering division, that is, it maintains aircraft; the other handles ground operations, that is, it receives the passengers at the airports, loads their luggage into aircraft, etc. A decision on the future of these subsidiaries is yet to be taken. 

How will the privatization of Air India affect its reserved-category employees, especially Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis?

It is clear that privatization of Air India is a violation of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution provides for reservations. It remains to be seen how Tata will behave with the reserved-category employees. Of course, there will be no reservation in future recruitments to Air India. That is very clear. There is no government policy regarding reservations in the private sector. This is bound to hurt the reserved categories.

Pradeep Dhobley, president, Air Corporation OBC Employees Federation (right)

What is the current status of the Dalits, the OBCs and the Adivasis in Air India?

This is a good question. Reservation for SCs and STs came into being with the promulgation of the Constitution. The SCs were more aware and conscious of their rights and they took full advantage of the 15 per cent quotas reserved for them. The Adivasis or the STs were less aware. In any case, OBCs got reservation in the 1990s after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. But I can tell you that the OBCs are worse off than the SCs and STs. I don’t have the exact figures but against 27 per cent reservations for them, OBCs have not been appointed to more than 7-8 per cent posts. 

Why has this happened? Any particular reason? 

“Creamy layer” is the biggest impediment. Hardly any pilot is appointed via the OBC quota. The reason: There is a cap of Rs 8.5 lakh on annual income to be eligible for the quota, whereas pilot training alone costs Rs 25-30 lakh. The same is true of aeronautical engineering. The training of an aeronautical engineer costs Rs 15-20 lakh. With this kind of money involved, how will any non-creamy layer OBC be able to become a pilot or an aeronautical engineer? As there is no concept of creamy layer for SC and STs, they have a bigger presence in these cadres. 

What are your expectations now?

Our demand is that the Government of India draft a policy for reservation in the private sector and ask the Tatas to follow it. The OBCs are rapidly becoming conscious and aware. They are coming forward. The government should protect the interest of all the reserved categories. 

(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)


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