Conglomerate Tata Group bids for debt-stricken Indian national carrier

Air India aircrafts pictured parked at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) in Mumbai on May 28, 2020 (AFP/INDRANIL MUKHERJEE)
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India's tea-to-steel conglomerate Tata Group confirmed Wednesday it has submitted a bid to buy debt-crippled national carrier Air India, which it owned decades ago before the airline was nationalised.

The Indian government has sought to sell its entire stake in the ailing company, setting a deadline for bids for Wednesday after failing previously to secure any interest for a majority share.

"We have put in a bid," a Tata Group spokesperson told AFP late Wednesday, without giving any further details.

Tata already has investments in airlines AirAsia India and Vistara.

The founder of Indian budget carrier SpiceJet, Ajay Singh, also submitted a bid in a personal capacity, The Times of India reported.

SpiceJet did not respond to an AFP request for comment.

The secretary of the government's investment and public asset management department, Tuhin Kanta Pandey, confirmed bids had been received.

"Process now moves to concluding stage," he tweeted Wednesday.

Tata Group in 1932 pioneered commercial air travel in India with Tata Airlines.

Once known affectionately as the "Maharaja of the skies", the airline was later taken over by the government and rebranded Air India.

But it has been haemorrhaging money for more than a decade, incurring billions of dollars in debt and losing market share to low-cost rivals in one of the world's fastest-growing, but highly competitive, airline markets.

Apart from Air India, the government also plans to raise billions of dollars through the privatisation of Bharat Petroleum and a share sale of a major insurer.

In August, New Delhi said it was seeking to lease state-owned assets to the private sector to raise six trillion rupees ($81 billion) to repair public finances battered by the pandemic and fund new infrastructure.


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