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   I was talking to the civil aviation minister on why permission has not been given to the Tatas to start an airline. (February 9, 1998)

The minister said: “Arrey bhai, who says permission has not been given. Such permissions cannot be given overnight, we have to study the proposal. But they expect it to be done in three years.”

“How long would it take you to study the proposal?”

I asked.

“At least 20 years, that is four five-year plans,” the minister said. “The first three years go in filling the proposal, then the next seven years in getting it on the agenda for consideration, the next five years to appoint a committee to consider it, then another five years’ gestation period.”

“You think the Tatas should have been patient?”

“Of course, they should have been patient,” the minister said. “After all, what experience do they have in running an airline! We have to first consider whether they can run an airline.”

“They were running the Tata Airlines,” I said.

“Yes, yes, I believe they had tried to run an airline, I have heard something about that. But there have been so many airlines like that, Damanias, East-West, just count them.”

“I’ll count them,” I said.

The minister continued: “And what kind of an airline were they running! I will have to check the records, but I understand that the Tata Airlines was so bad, it was a disgrace. They had no pilots, the chairman of the company used to fly the planes, something called Tiger Moths. Finally the government had to take it over and make it into Air-India.”

“That was a good thing the government did,” I said.

“It is true we have changed out policy now and said the Indian skies are free for anybody to operate an airline,” the minister said. “But we have to study the people who approach us. They have to have some knowledge of running an airline. The Tatas came to us out of the blue, without any knowledge of operating an airline. They said they would take assistance from Singapore Airlines. Is that fair?”

“Singapore Airlines is very good,” I said. “No. 1 in Asia and No. 2 in the world.”

“What is wrong with our Air-India and Indian Airlines, they are not far behind,” the minister said. “Why do you always have to talk of foreign airlines when we have got excellent airlines in our own country.”

“Yes,” I said.

“We have been very fair to the Tatas. We told them, wait for another few years while the civil aviation ministry considers whether their proposal meets the new guidelines of the foreign investments promotion board. We even offered to appoint a committee, which would submit its report in a time-frame of six years. But they decided to scrap

the proposal.”

“That’s sad,” I said. “I wonder how J.R.D. Tata must

be feeling.”

“J.R.D. Tata! Who’s that!” the minister for civil

aviation asked.

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