New Delhi, Jan 6 (IANS) The Delhi High Court on Thursday junked BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s plea against debt-laden Air India’s disinvestment process, in which the Tatas emerged as the highest bidder.
A bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh said: “The policy decision to disinvest was taken after following transparent procedure through multi-layered decision making, involving Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG), Core Group of Secretaries on Disinvestment (CGD) and the empowered Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism (AISAM) at the apex Ministerial level, with support for the entire process from reputed Transaction Adviser, Legal Adviser and Asset Valuer.”
Swamy, who appeared in person, urged the high court to pass a direction to the government to quash the present Air India disinvestment process. He termed the process as “arbitrary, unconstitutional, unfair” and added that the process was rigged in favour of the Tatas.
However, the high court said the petitioner failed to establish any illegality or arbitrariness in the process.
It said the apprehension of the petitioner is based upon a news report in one of the newspapers that government has sought Parliament’s nod to infuse over Rs 62,000 crore to its company that holds Air India’s debt, liabilities and some non-core assets. “Whereas in October, 2021, Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (“DIPAM”) Secretary had stated that net liability on Government after Air India’s privatization amounted to Rs 28,844 crore,” noted the court.
The high court noted that Centre has been working towards to close the disinvestment process, and further delay would cause loss to the public exchequer. “We also find merit in the stand of the Respondents No. 1 to 4 that each day, approximately Rs 20 crore are being invested to run the airline by the Government. The successful bidder needs to invest huge capital to infuse new life into the concerned airline,” it said.
During the hearing, Swamy clarified that he is not against disinvestment and free market, but his grievance was against the procedure adopted to favour Tata. After hearing detailed arguments in the matter, the high court reserved its order on January 4.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted the disinvestment was a policy decision, as the national carrier was running into losses.
In October, the government accepted the highest bid made by Tata Sons for 100 per cent equity shares of Air India and Air India Express along with a 50 percent stake in its ground-handling company named AISATS.