15 Oct 09 The Last Maharaja?
It is with a mixture of cynicism, despair and resignation that most Indians view the continuing fiasco at Air India (or Nacil). In a company that is grossly over-staffed, provides abysmal service quality and makes losses consistently, the specter of striking pilots is akin to absurd drama!
These guys figure amongst the top 1% of Indians, in terms of earnings. Sure, they’re highly specialised workers in a difficult job. However, if they don’t like it – why don’t they just leave? Their skills are highly marketable, and even in bad times, they will earn enough to stay within the top 1%.
Even more absurd is the Government of India’s determination to own and keep financing an un-viable and unnecessary business. Nobody even knows the extent of the losses, and estimates in newspapers range from Rs 5000 crores (Rs 50 b) to Rs 7200 crores (Rs 72 b) in FY09. In the last six years, the highest annual profit they recorded was a mere Rs 133.8 crores! That’s not even 2% of the last year’s losses. I can dig out more figures and ratios, but everyone knows that Air India is a loss-making machine of huge proportions, and this has only been exacerbated by the Indian Airlines merger.
A recent explanation trotted out by government and politicians that “even private airlines like Jet and Kingfisher are making losses”. But this is no justification at all. Private airlines are spending and losing their own or private money, while Air India is losing public money (read, yours and mine!), and that too without our explicit consent.
The latest bailout figure has touched Rs 7000 crores, but even this will only provide temporary relief! Doesn’t the Indian government have better things to do with our tax money, than throw it away on an airline? Aren’t farmers, and uneducated or unemployed or homeless Indians more worthy than pilots?
Or is it that we will not be able to fly across India?
Unlikely, since private airlines serve many, many more passengers.
Ultimately, this exposes a blind spot in India’s political thinking. Which is that PSUs are somehow, “holy cows”. Nobody wants to sell them. Even though nobody can justify why most of them should be run by the government!
But in the name of the “people”, these white elephants continue to exist, and suck out money that could be used in many other (more useful) ways. But who are these “people”? Are they pampered PSU employees? Such as pilots? Are they politicians (who can get free rides)? Are they Leftists who are married to an ideology that is obsolete?
Or are they the 1 billion plus Indians, who suffer in resignation, despair and cynicism?
Why don’t you ask these people… whether they want to fund a terribly-run airline business? Or many others that make no sense?