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After zero bids, New Delhi puts 100% of Air India up for sale

India to transfer less debt from flag carrier in new divestment try

The Indian government has agreed to sell its entire stake in Air India.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- India's government put the entire stake in Air India on the market Monday, as New Delhi makes another attempt to privatize the money-losing flag carrier.

Bids for Air India, wholly owned by the state, will be accepted through March 17. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government placed 76% of the airline up for auction in 2018, but no company expressed interest.

Air India operates 56 domestic routes and 42 international flights, holding a market share of just over 10%. But the carrier has posted losses for more than a decade through the year ended March 2019 due to inefficient business operations.

New Delhi opted for privatization as it looks to avoid a taxpayer bailout. In this latest divestment scheme, a buyer would assume about 40% of Air India's debts, equaling at least $3.26 billion.

Compared with a previous draft proposal, the final proposition shaves about $1.3 billion off the transferred debt load. The change illustrates the Modi government's determination to offload the airline.

The state plans to select a suitor by the end of March after certifying forthcoming bids. Yet it remains to be seen whether any party will put forward a tender. Air India employs over 13,000 people, raising questions about whether the high-cost enterprise can be turned around quickly.

Another failure to find a potential buyer for Air India would risk stalling New Delhi's plans to privatize other state-owned businesses.

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