NEW DELHI: A parliamentary panel today grilled civil aviation ministry officials on Air India disinvestment, including the fate of airline employees, with the ministry assuring that clarifications will be provided to it in a month's time, sources said.
During the 90-minute meeting here, members of the Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture sought to know about various issues pertaining to the proposed disinvestment based on the panel's draft report.
Today's agenda included the issue of Air India disinvestment on the basis of the parliamentary panel's draft report as well as the concerns raised by 15 employees' unions of Air India on it.
Besides, the panel also debated the demands for grants of the ministry as part of the agenda.
The draft report, which had opposed Air India's stake sale and suggested that the airline be given five years to shape up till the end of the turnaround and financial restructuring plans, had created a furore during the committee's previous meeting when some Opposition members had walked out.
The panel, chaired by senior TMC leader Derek O Brien, flagged concerns about the fate of employees at Air India after the disinvestment and grilled the ministry officials on various aspects of the stake sale, sources said.
In response, Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey urged the committee to give 30 days to reply to the questions raised by the members, a request agreed to by the panel.
Regarding the employees' concerns, Choubey said the "interest of the employees would be appropriately safeguarded in the Request for Proposal (RFP) for disinvestment".
While 15 unions of Air India had raised questions on the national carrier's disinvestment, the ministry officials said only four of them were recognised.
The remaining unions, including the Indian Commercial Pilots Association, were not recognised, they said.
Air India CMD Pradeep Singh Kharola was also present.
Apart from the employees' issues, some panel members sought to know about the rationale behind the proposed Air India stake sale at a time when the airline's operating profit had improved to Rs 298 crore in 2016-17, sources said.
The improved performance of disinvestment-bound helicopter services provider Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited was also mentioned during the meeting.
Pawan Hans reported a steep jump in profit at Rs 242 crore last fiscal compared to Rs 58 crore in 2015-16, sources said.
At the last meeting on January 15, some panel members, mostly belonging to the BJP, had sought the withdrawal of the draft report opposing the disinvestment of Air India.
In its draft report, the committee had said it was not an appropriate time to divest stake in Air India and that the airline should be given at least five years to revive.
Further, the panel deliberated on overall staff crunch in key organisations of the civil aviation sector.
Sources said there are at least 2,876 vacancies together at the Airports Authority of India (AAI), the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS).
These comprise 2,237 at the AAI, 339 at the DGCA and 300 at the BCAS, they added.
The committee also discussed about the Demands for Grants of the ministry for next financial year.
Besides Choubey and Kharola, many other senior officials, including DGCA Director General B S Bhullar and Pawan Hans CMD B P Sharma were present at today's meeting.
There are 31 MPs in all in the committee, with 15 from the BJP, and one each from its allies TDP, Apna Dal and RLSP.
Three are from the Congress, three from the TMC and one each from SP, YSR Congress, RJD, NCP, BJD, CPI(M) and AIADMK.