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AI chief may quit before term ends

Bapun Raz

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Sources in the government and those close to Arvind Jadhav said that earlier this month, the Air India CMD verbally communicated to the Civil Aviation Ministry his desire to step down before the end of his three-year term in May 2012. According to a report by Nirbhay Kumar in The Financial Express, Jadhav, who had taken over from EK Bharat Bhushan, Interim Chief, has now completed two years at the helm of India's loss-making national carrier. According to sources, Jadhav, who is currently at the Additional Secretary rank, will be empanelled as Secretary, Government of India next month, and plans to serve in that capacity either at the Centre or in his home cadre. He was selected in May 2009 to turn around the bleeding airline at a time when Praful Patel was Civil Aviation Minister. The IAS officer from 1978 Karnataka cadre who steered reforms during his stint as Joint Secretary in the Power Ministry was, however, hamstrung by the airline’s accumulated mountain of debt and losses.

Air India employees have frequently struck work for higher pay, though the airline is heading for a record Rs 7,000-crore loss in 2010-11. Lacking sufficient government support, Jadhav was forced to reinstate dismissed workers and re-recognise an Air India pilots’ union last month. It may be noted that Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu has recommended an immediate salary freeze at the airline. Though Jadhav managed to get a Rs 5,000-crore package for Air India, its turnaround plan was criticised by Deloitte as being based on faulty assumptions leading to unrealistic projections. Independent Directors like Amita Mitra, former FICCI General Secretary, and Anand Mahindra, Vice-President, M&M left the airline within a year of their appointment. When contacted for his comments, Jadhav neither responded to an email or to text messages sent on his mobile phone. If Jadhav indeed steps down before his term expires, he would be leaving the airline with accumulated losses of about Rs19,000 crore and a working capital loan of Rs 20,000 crore. The airline also has to service a long-term debt of about Rs 18,000 crore for aircraft purchase.
 
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