In a major relief to the Government of India, on March 11, the Madras High Court dismissed a petition by a trade union of nearly 5,000 Air India employees to restrain the Centre nfrom disinvesting the air carrier entity. During a previous hearing before the Madras HC on January 25, Justice V Parthiban had orally observed that the employees in concern have not challenged the disinvestment, but are ‘merely asking for protection of their rights.’
However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta implied that these employees were disallowing the disinvestment ’till their industrial disputes’ are redressed, deeming that the same is anathema to the concept of disinvestment.
In the plea at hand, the union was seeking directions to the Centre to confer protection of employees’ rights and service conditions before the disinvestment was finalised and Air India was privatised by the Tata Group.
“An economic policy decision in furtherance of larger public interest cannot be subjected to judicial audit habitually or routinely merely on the ground that there was no opportunity of hearing afforded to the employees,” the Madras HC order read.
Plea based on presumption that whole of Air India disinvestment process was flawed: Madras HC
Implying that time is of essence to the disinvestment of Air India, the judge further noted that it is too late in the day to hold the process merely on such a slippery challenge. Moreover, the Court mentioned that the issuance of a writ of Mandamus (commanding performance of duty of official) seeking directions to stall the disinvestment, is based on a presumption that the whole of Air India disinvestment process was flawed.
“It is too late in the day to draw any such presumption after signing of the Share Purchase Agreement (SPA),” the Madras HC clarified while reserving its orders.
The plea sought for an order forbearing the Centre, Air India and the Tata Group’s Talace Pvt Ltd from finalising the disinvestment of the Centre’s stake in the air carrier firm, stating that measures to protect the rights of employees and conditions to protect their service were not put in place or considered.
Air India, on January 27, was officially handed over to the Tata Group after serving the nation as a state-owned property for over 69 years.