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PMO caught in Jet-Etihad air pocket, seeks way out

PMO caught in Jet-Etihad air pocket, seeks way out
Allegations and clarifications are flying thick and fast even before the deal between aviation majors Jet Airways and Etihad has taken wings. With several objections raised by MPs Jaswant Singh of the BJP, Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) and Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool Congress, and also with a letter being shot by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, the Prime Minister’s Office said on Tuesday that the stake sale matter is still under examination and the issues raised have been referred to various concerned ministries.

The PMO sought to clear the air over alleged differences within the government. It detailed the sequence of events, saying it only wanted a Note prepared for Cabinet approval to be modified. ‘Nowhere was there a suggestion to change the decision sought in the Note, which is the ex-post facto approval of the MOU,’ it said. When the Cabinet Note was received by PMO, it was felt that it should be ‘reformulated to reflect the sequence of events and the discussions more accurately as its current formulation did not explain the detailed examination of the matter that had taken place on April 22.’

The statement added that it was in this context that the PMO sent a Note to the civil aviation ministry on 13 June to redraft it. Responding to reports on the India-UAE (Abu Dhabi) Bilateral Air Services Agreement and Jet Airways-Etihad equity proposal, the PMO said these reports are ‘factually incorrect and baseless.’ As far as the Bilateral Air Services Agreement was concerned, the Cabinet Note was asked to be kept in abeyance till responses on the complaint letters were received, the statement said.

Referring to the bilateral agreement, it said, ‘There is absolutely no disagreement within the government or between the ministers and the Prime Minister on the matter. The Prime Minister is neither washing his hands off the Bilateral Air Services Agreement nor is the Prime Minister’s Office trying to do a U-turn on the issue now.’

On the stake sale between Jet Airways and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, the PMO said this was ‘distinctly different’. ‘This is a matter between private parties which needs to be approved by the concerned agencies as per the policies and laws in place. This is not an agreement between governments and there is no question of either backtracking from or disowning this proposal as this is not an agreement with the government,’ it said in a statement.

‘As for the equity stake matter, that is a matter still under examination,’ the statement said. The issues raised over the deal have been referred to the Civil Aviation Ministry, Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Department of Economic Affairs and the Corporate Affairs Ministry ‘for examination and appropriate action as they were concerned with various aspects of the complaints.’

The issues relating to security concerns were referred to the Cabinet Secretary for examination to suggest whether there was a need to look into any issues afresh, the PMO statement said.
The statement came as cabinet secretary A K Seth held a meeting with secretaries of the concerned ministries and departments to discuss the issue.

It also said the Prime Minister had directed that the matter be brought to the union cabinet ‘much before any of the letters complaining about the seat entitlement enhancement or the Jet-Etihad equity stake were even received.’

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