New Delhi: In 1997,
then civil aviation minister C.M. Ibrahim acted under pressure
from Jet Airways to thwart the Tata group's bid to start an
airline in India in association with Singapore Airlines, a former
top bureaucrat has said in a tell-all book.
"The history of civil aviation in this country would have taken a
different trajectory, if Tata Singapore Airlines had been allowed
to float an airline," wrote M.K. Kaw, the civilian aviation
secretary in the government of prime minister I.K. Gujral.
In his book "An Outsider Everywhere - Revelations by an Insider" (Konark
Publishers), Kaw said Ibrahim refused to clear the proposal
despite policy papers being put up before him.
"The minister did not clear the file, despite several attempts on
Later, Ratan Tata - whose group started India's first airline, Air
India, which was later nationalised - met Kaw and inquired about
the chances of the proposal coming through, the bureaucrat wrote.
"I said that it was difficult to guess. He (Tata) said that he had
been approached, but it was not the policy for Tatas (to give
"The Tatas finally got tired of waiting and withdrew their
proposal. Recently, Ratan Tata explained that one person had stood
between the Tatas and the fulfillment of their aspirations in the
civil aviation sector," Kaw said.
"But he (Tata) did not elaborate."
Kaw said when privatisation of airlines was permitted, Jet Airways
had come up with 40 percent equity contribution by two airlines in
"The Tatas had mooted a proposal for a private airline with 40
percent equity contribution from Singapore Airlines. As this would
have been a formidable competitor, Jet tried hard to upset the
rules regarding foreign equity contribution.
"One of the last decisions taken by the outgoing Deve Gowda
government had been to disallow such contribution in new
proposals. This would block the Tata proposal effectively. Jet was
given a time of six months to buy back the equity from its foreign
He said the Tata group was not allowed to open an airport. "They
had wanted to set up an international airport at Bangalore. They
had a foreign collaborator with all the expertise connected with
setting up of world-class airports. Normally the proposal should
have been through.
"I submitted the case to the minister (Ibrahim). He did not okay
Kaw, who was later shifted out of civil aviation, said it was a
pity that even 15 years later, the country is yet to have a civil
"It is the considered view of many experts in civil aviation that
FDI investment will not be allowed in India till this is permitted
by the powerful owners of Jet Airways," Kaw wrote.
The official, who retired from the Indian Administrative Service
in 2001 and was known for uprightness and outspokenness, said the
history of civil aviation in India was "a fascinating saga of
benami ownership of airlines, demands for bribes, destruction of
rival airlines one by one, unwarranted purchase if aircraft,
mismanagement of bureaucrats and politicians, free jaunts on
inaugural flights, subsidized travel for many categories of
travelers, VVIP flights, Haj flights and so on."
"It is a story of shameless exploitation and ruthless corruption."