Government Looking For Strategic Investors For Air India: Arun Jaitley

Arun Jaitley on Aadhaar, Air India and more.
Government Looking For Strategic Investors For Air India: Arun Jaitley

The Civil Aviation Ministry is considering all options for debt-laden Air India including strategic investors who will ensure that the airline is kept running and there are no job losses, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.

At a time when more than 86 percent of the domestic civil aviation traffic is being handled by private players, there is no reason why the government should be running an airline, he said during a discussion with a panel of senior journalists on DD News to mark Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government’s three years in office. The government can use that money for welfare services instead, he said.

Data released by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation shows that Air India has been steadily losing market share to private players like IndiGo, SpiceJet Ltd. and Jet Airways Ltd. The national air carrier has a debt of more than Rs 50,000 crore and has been grappling with losses for some time now. The final decision on investors will be taken by the Civil Aviation Ministry, Jaitley said.

Open To Beefing Up Aadhaar Privacy

The Aadhaar law has a privacy framework and the government is open to suggestions to further strengthen it but the benefits of the biometric ID can’t be overlooked amid a debate around privacy, the Finance Minister said.

“Aadhaar Act has provisions to secure data and makes leaking information a criminal offence,” Jaitley said, replying to a question by BloombergQuint’s Sanjay Pugalia during the discussion.

The budget for 2017-18 made Aadhaar mandatory to file tax returns and obtain the Permanent Account Number (PAN), triggering privacy concerns. The Supreme Court is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the government’s decision.

Praising former UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani for making Aadhaar a reality, Jaitley said the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government envisioned Aadhaar but didn’t provide a road map on how it will be used. The Modi government provided that road map by bringing in a law, he said, adding that Aadhaar has helped curb subsidy leakage in cooking gas and rural employment guarantee scheme.

Jaitley said private investments need to pick up pace to boost job creation. While the government’s investment in infrastructure has gone up, private companies that built excess capacity during the boom years are yet to start investing again. And the debt the companies took on then largely contributed to bad loans in the banking sector, which the Modi government is trying to resolve, he said.

Demonetisation And Digital Payment Charges

The Finance Minister billed demonetisation as a big-bang reform that has helped add 91 lakh taxpayers and push digital transactions. This, he said, will eventually help curb tax evasion. He said digital payment platforms can’t survive with out levying a charge on the services they provide, but the Reserve Bank Of India will ensure that the cost of these transactions remain nominal.

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