Oppose the Privatisation of Pawan Hans!

 

By Dr. S. Das, Joint Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC)

 

 

Pawan Hans Limited (PHL) was founded in 1985 as a joint venture of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and ONGC. On 29 April 2022, the entire 51% share of the government in PHL was approved for sale to Star9 Mobility Private Limited for Rs. 211 crore whereas the assets of PHL are more than Rs 1000 crore!

Employees of Pawan Hans have been opposing its privatisation from the day it was announced. On 14 May, All India Civil Aviation Employees Union appealed to the Delhi High Court to stop the proposed sale of PHL as the company is an important strategic PSU.

The buyer, Star9 Mobility Private Limited, is a consortium of three companies: Maharaja Aviation Private Limited, Big Charter Private Limited and Almas Global Opportunity Fund. Of these, Maharaja Aviation has only three helicopters and a negative net worth of −7. 59 crore rupees, and the other two reportedly have little to no experience in aviation. This again shows that the government’s claim that privatisation is done to make the company more efficient is false and only to win support for justification.

The consortium will acquire the government’s 51% stake as well as ONGC’s 49% stake at the same price per share. A recent National Company Law Tribunal (Kolkata) ruling against Almas Global Opportunity Fund for non-payment in the purchase of EMC (a private company in the power sector) has halted the sale of PHL.

The government has justified the sale of PHL by saying that it cannot bear the losses of PHL.

We cannot accept that “loss-making” is a valid reason for privatising any enterprise! There are various reasons for this, as we illustrate through the case of PHL.

For one thing, no capitalist is so stupid as to buy anything unless the deal is very profitable to him or her. Even if the enterprise is loss-making or shown to be so, its assets including the land on which it stands are often like a gold mine.

There are many instances of profit-making public sector enterprises that were deliberately turned “loss making” by the government in order to trot out one of its favourite excuses for privatisation.

PHL had regular profits till 2017–18. The company has paid dividends of Rs. 245.51 crores to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and ONGC till date, and it has a positive net worth of Rs. 984 crores.

Since the plan to privatise PHL was announced in 2017, the ministry and PHL management have deliberately weakened the company and turned it into a loss-making enterprise. By doing so, the government can justify selling the company for the negligible amount of Rs. 211 crore only!

Some Facts about PHL:

  • It is the largest helicopter service provider in the country.
  • Its fleet of helicopters is used for offshore operations of oil and gas companies and surveillance of the pipelines of ONGC, GAIL and Oil India Limited.
  • It connects remote and inaccessible parts of the country and provides transportation between Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands, including making deliveries of vaccines to the islands.
  • It is used in search and rescue operations during natural disasters
  • It is deployed by security forces for the transportation of personnel and materials.
  • Its services are available at highly subsidised, affordable rates for the people of Andaman and Nicobar and other regions.

Thus, Pawan Hans connects remote regions and undertakes emergency and rescue operations. No private buyer will put the safety and well-being of people above their drive to maximise profit. This was amply shown during the pandemic and innumerable times before that whenever there was a calamity. The privatisation of PHL will deprive people of access to necessary resources and thus it is totally anti-people.

The government has the right to collect tax from each one of us ONLY because it has the duty to provide for our safety, security (suraksha) and welfare (sukh)!

From olden days this was accepted in our country. It was only in the days of the British Raj that this primary principle was buried; the British had come only to loot our country. They turned it from one of the richest to one of the poorest. They made the lives of crores of Indians utterly wretched and even sent crores of our people to early deaths.

This character of the British has been retained by the Indian ruling class led by big corporates and dollar billionaires. (A dollar billionaire has assets worth over Rs. 77,000 crore!). The sheer magnitude of their wealth has ensured that every government has implemented their agenda. After 1991, big corporates, both Indian and foreign, have been insisting upon the implementing the policy of Globalisation through Liberalisation and Privatisation.

The working class of our country needs to insist that the government perform its duty of ensuring good quality and affordable necessities to everyone. In these modern times this includes clean water, education, health services, sanitation services, mobile and internet services apart from food, clothing and houses.

The privatisation of PHL is anti-worker, anti-people and anti-national. We must stand with the workers of PHL and oppose its privatisation!

 

 

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