Though the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and its staffers were sceptical about the privatisation of lucrative airports like Delhi and Mumbai, events have shown their fears to be unfounded. For one, revenues of the airports have gone up so much after privatisation—the growth in the economy was, no doubt, an important factor—AAI’s post-privatisation revenues are higher thanks to its share in both airports. As a proportion of AAI’s revenues, the share of the western and northern region—that’s mainly Mumbai and Delhi—rose from 44% in FY08 to 56% in FY12. And this, it’s important to keep in mind, is without AAI investing too much since the bulk of the investments have been made by the joint venture—of the total capex of R12,500 crore for the Delhi airport, AAI’s equity contribution was under R650 crore. In the case of Delhi, thanks to a spanking new airport, a total of 34 million passengers and 2.8 lakh aircraft movements were handled in FY13—pre-privatisation, this was 20 million passengers in FY07. In the case of Mumbai, the number of passengers handled rose from 22 million in FY07 to 30.2 million in FY13.
What of the workers, the prime concern of the unions? This is where the bidding format comes in. While the bidding document for Delhi and Mumbai didn’t give a higher weight to those bidders who offered to retain more of AAI’s staffers, the new bidding documents for the Chennai and Kolkata airports could well do that. In which case, the proportion of AAI staffers who will get absorbed will be much higher. Despite this, in the case of the Delhi airport, the joint venture DIAL absorbed 80% of the 2,300 AAI staffers that were seconded to it when it took over—after a certain period of time, DIAL had the option of retaining the staffers or hiring new ones; in case they did not wish to work for DIAL, the understanding was that they would be absorbed by AAI at its other airports. In the case of the Mumbai airport, however, the GVK group absorbed just 167 of the 2,100 staffers—the group says it made offers to all staffers who, instead, chose to go back to their parent organisation. In other words, should the government go ahead quickly with the privatisation proposal cleared by the inter-ministerial group on Thursday, job losses for AAI staffers should be the least of its concerns as this can be dealt with by smart bid documents.