On a day when former civil aviation minister Praful Patel is being blamed for benefiting private airlines in the wake of a CAG report, he came out to defend himself, saying these are "conspiracy theories" that should be "rubbished".
"The hallmark of civil aviation is opening up of the sky. Earlier, people were ashamed of talking about Indian airports. Now, look at the change that has come about in the aviation sector. When Manmohan Singh (who was the finance minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao cabinet) liberalized the economy, he faced similar allegations," Patel, who is in the eye of a storm over the CAG report that has called the Air India expansion plan a huge waste, told Headlines Today on Thursday.
"People will always say something. Show me a single route where the AI was stopped from flying, giving space to private jets," Patel said.
Asking why people of India should be "denied the right to fly", Patel said at a time when the domestic sector has seen 300% growth and the international sector has witnessed 200% growth, it was but natural to think of the modernization of the AI fleet, some of whose aircraft were "20-years-old".
"What has gone now (from AI) is its monopoly. It has moved from a protective environment to the competitive one," the Union Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises told executive editor Rahul Kanwal in an exclusive interview. However, he hastened to add that the questions being raised needed to be asked from the civil aviation ministry - "I am no more the minister" - if the working condition during the pre- and post merger (of AI& IA) periods affected the national carrier's functioning.
Maintaining that he was not to blame alone for the decisions that were collectively taken by the EGoM, the committee of secretaries and all others concerned, Patel said while the merger's decision was not bad, the implementation part could have been done in a much better way "if only the employees and management had co-operated".
While he agreed that timing might have been bad, he asserted that the merger was "well-intentioned".
The former civil aviation minister reiterated his stand on the CAG report, saying his ministry had not been indicted. The report was an "observation", he said. "I'm not saying everything was hunky dory," Patel said, adding, he inherited the AI "in a bad shape".
"Planes were bought because we needed them. We had to face competition, both domestic and international," he said.
However, former joint secretary, Civil Aviation Ministry, Sanat Kaul asked, "What were the circumstances (in which those decisions were taken), we don't know."
"The merger proposal came up many times earlier, which was rejected. There were HR issues as well. After the merger, rules were not followed, which culminated in disaster," Kaul said, adding, "It needs an inquiry."