The Delhi High Court will on Thursday pronounce its decision on a plea by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy challenging the debt-laden state-run Air India’s disinvestment process in which the Tatas emerged as the highest bidder at ₹18,000 crore.
A Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh said, “We will pass orders the day after,” while also asking the parties involved in the case to submit their written responses by Wednesday.
Mr. Swamy, who appeared in person, sought a direction to the government to quash the present Air India disinvestment process, terming it “arbitrary, unconstitutional, unfair” and “rigged in favour of the Tatas.”
The 83-year-old said that the only other bidder in the process was a consortium led by the owner of SpiceJet, which was facing insolvency proceedings in the Madras High Court and thus could not have bid.
“This means there was only one bidder and the bid could not have taken place,” Mr. Swamy argued.
‘A policy decision’
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta contested the petition saying disinvestment was a policy decision that could not be contested in courts. He further said that the national carrier was losing thousands of crores every day.
Mr. Mehta argued that though SpiceJet was facing insolvency proceedings, it was never part of the consortium that bid for Air India. “It was led by its owner Ajay Singh,” he added.
On October 8, 2021, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the highest price bid of Talace Private Limited for sale of 100% equity shareholding of Government of India in Air India along with equity shareholding of Air India in Air India Express Limited and Air India Air Transport Services Limited.
Mr. Swamy, in his petition filed along with advocate Satya Sabharwal, also argued that the disinvestment of Air India by way of transfer of management control and sale of 100% of its equity shares held by Government of India to Talace Private Limited was against the interests of national integrity and security.
“The Tatas are very much a part of Air Asia,” Mr. Swamy argued.
However, Mr. Mehta said that Talace Private Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Sons Private Limited, which won the Air India bid, had nothing to do with Air Asia. He said any case Air Asia faced in the past was irrelevant here.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the Tatas, argued the successful bidder here was a 100% Indian company owned 100% by an Indian.
In his petition, Mr. Swamy had also called for an investigation into the role and functioning of various government authorities involved in the Air India disinvestment process,