Jet thwarted Tata plan to float private airline in 1997

New Delhi: India`s civil aviation history would have taken a different trajectory had the Tata group and Singapore Airlines been allowed to float a private airline 15 years ago, says former bureaucrat M K Kaw in his tell-all book.

"The Tatas had mooted a proposal for a private airline with 40 per cent equity contribution from Singapore Airlines. As this would have been a formidable competitor, Jet tried hard to upset rules regarding foreign equity contribution," the former civilian aviation secretary in the I K Gujral government writes in "An Outsider Everywhere – Revelations by an Insider", published by Konark.

Kaw, who was in the IAS for 37 years, says he advocated a rule in the policy related to allowing of 40 per cent equity contribution by foreign airlines even in new proposals.
"This was seen by Jet as a victory for the Tatas. If approached as policy, it would enable favourable consideration of the Tata proposal. (Then civil aviation minister Chand Mahal) Ibrahim was not happy… He was not convinced. Jet people had told him that I was trying to show undue favour to the Tatas," he writes.

"The minister did not clear the file, despite several attempts on my part. The history of civil aviation in this country would have taken a different trajectory, if Tata Singapore Airlines had been allowed to float an airline."

On a civil aviation policy, he writes, "The country does not have a civil aviation policy even today. It is of the considered view of many experts in civil aviation that FDI investment will not be allowed in India till this is permitted by the powerful owners of Jet Airways."

According to Kaw, the Tatas also wanted to set up an international airport at Bangalore. "They had a foreign collaborator with all the expertise connected with setting up of world-class airports. Normally the proposal should have been through. I submitted the case to the minister (Ibrahim). He did not okay the proposal. The Tatas finally got tired of waiting and withdrew their proposal. Recently, Ratan Tata explained that one person had stood between the Tatas and the fulfilment of their aspirations in the civil aviation sector. But he did not elaborate," Kaw writes.

He also had stints in the Defence Ministry, Department of Revenue, Pay Commission, Planning Commission and the HRD Ministry before retiring from service in 2001.

On the current scenario in Air India, he says, "It is a fascinating saga of benami ownership of airlines, demands for bribes, destruction of all rival airlines one by one, unwarranted purchase of aircraft, mismanagement by bureaucrats and politicians, free jaunts on inaugural flights, subsidised travel for many categories of travellers, VVIP flights, Haj flights and so on. It is a story of shameless exploitation and ruthless corruption."

"An Outsider Everywhere – Revelations by an Insider" is Kaw`s second book. In 1993, he wrote "Bureaucracy: IAS Unmasked". On the `outsider` word in his new book`s name, he says, "I am an outsider because I have no roots. I was born in Srinagar. I hold a State Subject Certificate of Jammu and Kashmir. I call myself a Kashmiri Pandit. But after the Seventh Exodus of 1990, there is scant possibility of our return to the valley of our ancestors."