Recently there have been news reports about the NITI Aayog submitting its recommendations on improving the financial health of Air India to the Ministry of Finance., The Civil Aviation Ministers have also mentioned that the Ministry will soon propose a roadmap for the rejuvenation of the national airline. While the NITI Aayog report is not out in the public domain yet, we present a few details on the financial health of the airline.
Finances of Air India
In 2015-16, Air India earned a revenue of Rs 20,526 crore and registered losses of Rs 3,837 crore. As of March 31, 2015, the total debt of Air India was at Rs 51,367 crore. This includes Rs 22,574 crore outstanding on account of aircraft loans. The figure below shows the losses incurred by Air India in the last few years (2007-16).
According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, reasons for Air India’s losses include: (i) the adverse impact of exchange rate variation due to the weakening of Indian Rupee, (ii) high interest burden, (iii) increase in competition, especially from low cost carriers, and (iv) high fuel prices. The National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC), in its report in 2013, had observed that with the increase in the number of airlines in the market, Air India has been struggling to make a transition from a monopoly market to a competitive one. These struggles have been primarily regarding improving its efficiency, and competing with the private airlines.
Turnaround Plan and Financial Restructuring
In order to bail out the company, the government had approved the Turnaround Plan (TAP) and Financial Restructuring Plan (FRP) of Air India in April 2012. Under the plans, the government would infuse equity into Air India subject to meeting certain milestones such as Pay Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation), on time performance, fleet utilisation, yield factor (average fare paid per mile, per passenger), and rationalisation of the emolument structure of employees.7 The equity infusion included financial support towards the repayment of the principal, as well as the interest payments on the government loans for aircraft acquisition. Under the TAP/FRP, the central government was to infuse Rs 30,231 crore till 2020-21. As of 2016-17, the Ministry has infused an equity amount of Rs 24,745 crore.
In 2017-18, the Ministry has allocated Rs 1,800 crore towards Air India which is 67% of the Ministry’s total budget for the year. However, this amount is 30% lower than the TAP commitment of Rs 2,587 crore.3 In 2016-17, while Air India had sought and equity infusion of Rs 3,901 crore, the government approved Rs 2,465 crore as the equity infusion. The Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism, and Culture examining the 2017-18 budget estimates noted that reducing the equity infusion in Air India might adversely affect the financial situation of the company. It recommended that the government must allocate the amount committed under TAP. The Ministry had also observed that due to reduction of equity infusion, Air India has to arrange funds through borrowing which costs additional amount of interest to be paid by the government.
As per the Ministry, Air India has achieved most of the targets set out in TAP. Despite running into losses, it achieved an operating profit of Rs 105 crore in FY 2015-16. Air India’s performance in some of the segments are provided in the table below.
Table 1: Air India’s performance
|Overall Network On Time Performance (measures adherence to time schedule)||68.2%||72.7%|
|Passenger Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation of the airline)||67.9%||73.7%|
|Network Yield achieved (in Rs/ RPKM)*||3.74||4.35|
|Number of Revenue Passengers (in million)||13.4||16.9|
|Operating Loss (in Rs crore)||5,139||2,171|
* Note: RPKM or Revenue Passenger Kilometre performed refers to number of seats for which the carrier has earned revenue.
Sources: Lok Sabha Questions; PRS.
The NTDPC had observed that with its excessive and unproductive manpower, failure to invest in the technology required to keep it competitive, and poor operations, Air India’s future looks risky. It had also questioned the rationale for a national airline. It had suggested that the government must frame a decisive policy with regard to Air India, and clarify its future accordingly.5 It had recommended that Air India’s liabilities should be written off and be dealt with separately, and the airline should be run on complete operational and financial autonomy.5
Need for competitive framework in the sector
With the entrance of several private players in the market, the domestic aviation market has grown significantly in the last decade. The market share of an airline is directly related to its capacity share in the market. While private carriers have added capacity in the domestic market, the capacity induction (adding more aircrafts) of Air India has not kept up with the private carriers. This has resulted in decrease in market share of Air India from 17% in 2008-09 to 14% in 2016-17.
The Committee looking at the competitive framework of the civil aviation sector had observed that the national carrier gets preferential treatment through access to government funding, and flying rights. It had recommended that competitive neutrality should be ensured between private carriers and the national carrier, which could be achieved by removing the regulations that provide such preferential treatment to Air India. The NTDPC had also noted that the presence of a state-owned enterprise should not distort the market for other private players.6 It had recommended that the Ministry should consider developing regulations that improve the overall financial health of the airline sector.
While Air India’s performance has improved following the TAP, along with the equity infusion from government, its debt still remains high and has been gradually increasing. In light of this, it remains to be seen what the government will propose with regard to the rejuvenation of the national airline, and ensure a competitive and fair market for all the players in the airline market.
 “Govt to prepare Air India revival plan within 3 months, amid calls for privatization”, Livemint, May 31, 2017, http://www.livemint.com/Politics/0koi5Hyidj1gVD3wOWTruM/Govt-says-all-options-open-for-Air-India-revival.html.
 “Air India selloff: Fixing airline’s future is more important than past”, Financial Express, May 31, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/why-fixing-air-indias-future-more-important-than-past/693777/.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 382, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://18.104.22.168/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=28931&lsno=16.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 353, Ministry of Civil Aviation, November 17, 2016, http://22.214.171.124/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=40733&lsno=16.
 “Volume 3, Chapter 3: Civil Aviation”, India Transport Report: Moving India to 2032, National Transport Development Policy Committee, June 17, 2014, http://planningcommission.nic.in/sectors/NTDPC/volume3_p1/civil_v3_p1.pdf.
 “Government Approves Financial Restructuring and Turn Around Plan of Air India”, Press Information Bureau, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), April 12, 2012, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=82231.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 472, Ministry of Civil Aviation, April 6, 2017, http://126.96.36.199/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51752&lsno=16.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 4809, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 30, 2017, http://188.8.131.52/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51108&lsno=16.
 “244th report: Demand for Grants (2017-18) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, March 17, 2017, http://184.108.40.206/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Transport,%20Tourism%20and%20Culture/244.pdf.
 “218th report: Demand for Grants (2015-16) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, April 28, 2015.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 307, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://220.127.116.11/loksabhaquestions/annex/7/AU307.pdf.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 1566, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 9, 2017, http://www.loksabha.nic.in/Members/QResult16.aspx?qref=47532.
 Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 312, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 23, 2017, http://18.104.22.168/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=49742&lsno=16.
 Report of the Committee Constituted for examination of the recommendations made in the Study Report on Competitive Framework of Civil Aviation Sector in India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, June 2012, http://civilaviation.gov.in/sites/default/files/moca_001870_0.pdf.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.