Tuesday, May 03, 2011

BJP's Rudy blames PMO for pilots' strike

Forme minister says Air India CMD reporting to PMO, not to ministry

New Delhi: Former civil aviation minister and BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy had on Sunday held prime minister Manmohan Singh and the prime minister’s office (PMO) responsible for the crisis arising from the ongoing strike of the pilots erstwhile Indian Airlines, demanding wage parity with their Air India colleagues.

A pilot himself, Rudy said that he was not holding any brief for the pilots but that their demands were not entirely unreasonable.

Rudy reminded that Singh had argued at the time of the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines in 2007 that the only way to bale out the loss-making national carriers by merging them and infusing Rs 2000 crore equity. He said that the losses had only increased since the merger.

Asked as to why held the PMO particularly responsible for the problem, Rudy said, “The CMD of Air India reported directly to the PMO and not to the CMD in the civil aviation ministry or to the civil aviation minister. This can be cross-checked.” He also said that after failing to find a CMD for Air India the PMO picked out a name from the discarded short-listed panel.

He quoted from the chief labour commissioner’s statement as saying that the management was making ‘insincere’ efforts to reach an ‘amicable settlement’.

Rudy demanded the prime minister clarify as to whether the pilots’ strike will be used a pretext to privatise Air India and expressed the apprehension that there is a conspiracy on the part of the government to do so. He said that there was already talk in government of a partial shutdown or a partial lock-out. He said that there was nothing like a partial shutdown or a partial lock-out and it all points to a complete shutdown.

Citing statistics, Rudy said that the losses of Air India mounted from Rs 450 crore at the time of the merger. He said that the losses increased to Rs 2000 crore in 2008 and this was blamed on the recession. When the losses doubled to Rs 5500 crore, rise in international oil prices was held the culprit. In 2008-2009, the loss was Rs 11,000 crore and this time round competition from the private sector was cited as the reason. He said the losses in 2009-2010 stood at Rs 16,500 crore, and this time the entire blame for it was being laid at the door of the striking pilots.

He questioned the civil aviation ministry’s version that daily loss due to the ilots’ strike Rs 26 crore per day, and quoted a government reply in parliament to show that Air India’s expenditure per day was Rs 57, of which it earned Rs 37. The loss then was Rs 20 crore every day and that when the airline operations were at their peak.

He said that the only ones to gain from the strike were the private airlines, who had increased their fare between 10 to 20 per cent and in some instances had even doubled it. He also the pilots too would not be stranded because of the government’s tough stance. He said that there was a demand fro a 1000 senior pilots in the private segment, and the 800 striking pilots would easily find alternative employment.

He also pointed out that there was a deliberate attempt made by the UPA government to undermine Air India by farming off lucrative routes like the ones between Kochi-Doha, Kochi-Muscat, Kozhikode-Kuwait to the private operators.

Rudy strong exception to civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi for saying that the pilots whose educational qualification was that of 12thstandard had no right to demand high salaries, and said this was an insult to all the pilots. He pleaded with Congress president UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi to object to this as well because Rajiv Gandhi was himself a pilot, and the sweeping generalization of Ravi would be an insult to the memory of the former prime minister.

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