The Delhi High Court on Thursday dismissed BJP leader Subramanian Swamy's plea seeking to set aside the Air India disinvestment process on the allegation that the methodology adopted by the government in the valuation of the national carrier was "arbitrary, illegal and against public interest".
“Dr. Subramanian Swamy, sir we are dismissing this matter…,” the bench said. Swamy has sought to set aside and revoke any action or decision or grant of any further approvals, permissions or permits by authorities with respect to the Air India disinvestment process.
On January 4, the court heard the arguments put forward by Swamy, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Harish Salve, who appeared in the matter on behalf of Talace Private Limited, and had reserved the order. Swamy also sought a CBI investigation into the role and functioning of authorities and the submission of a detailed report before the court. The plea was opposed by the counsel for Centre and Talace Pvt Ltd.
In October last year, the Centre accepted the highest bid made by a Tata Sons company for 100 per cent equity shares of Air India and Air India Express, along with the government's 50 per cent stake in ground-handling company AISATS -- the first privatisation in the country in 20 years.
The government signed the share purchase agreement with Tata Sons on October 25 for the sale of Air India for Rs 18,000 crore. The Tatas would pay Rs 2,700 crore in cash and take over Rs 13,500 crore of the airline's debt. The Tatas beat the Rs 15,100 crore offer from a consortium led by SpiceJet promoter Ajay Singh and the reserve price of Rs 12,906 crore set by the government for the sale of its 100 per cent stake in the loss-making carrier.
As of August 31, 2021, Air India's total debt was Rs 61,562 crore, of which 75 per cent or Rs 46,262 crore will be transferred to a special purpose vehicle, Air India Assets Holding Limited (AIAHL), before handing over the airline to the Tata group. Swamy had earlier submitted that a consortium led by SpiceJet was the other bidder but as insolvency proceedings were going on against the airline in the Madras High Court, it was not entitled to bid and therefore there was effectively only one bidder.
"The methodology adopted by the government in the valuation of Air India was arbitrary, illegal, corrupt, mala fide and against public interest," he had said. The solicitor general had contended that the petition was founded on three misconceptions and does not need any consideration. According to the petitioner, he said, SpiceJet was the second bidder but the fact is that the airline was never a part of the consortium that submitted the bid and proceedings pending against it have no relevance here.
He said Air India's disinvestment was a policy decision taken by the Centre, keeping in view the huge losses being incurred by the airline, and the government was competent to take such a decision. Regarding Talace Private Limited, a Tata Sons subsidiary that won the bid for acquiring Air India, the solicitor general had said neither the firm nor the Tata group has any criminal proceedings pending against it and it has nothing to do with the AirAsia group.
Salve had also contended that there was nothing in the petition and that the bids were complete, the share agreements signed and all this has been in public domain for quite some time. He said the airline business is tough to manage and there are very large transactions. If a person comes at this stage and keeps things pending with a writ petition, no one will invest in it, he had added.
Swamy said he is not opposing the policy of disinvestment and has always believed in the idea of a free market, but is raising the issue of "impropriety, illegality, misconduct and corruption" in the process.
With inputs from PTI.