Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel on Saturday said the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines was a long-term process and there had been “opposition” from within and “systematic effort” was made to ensure that it did not succeed.

“I will tell you that there has been opposition from within and systematic effort to see that the merger does not succeed... by a lot of people in the organisation. Now some of the unions also have to be blamed for that,” he said.

Accepting that merger was delayed but it was not a wrong step, he said merger is not a single day process. “It was envisaged as a three to five year process... to say that it is internally or inherently flawed is wrong.

“It has been delayed - Yes. The fact is, who has to make it work - the organisation. But I still feel, if these people do not make it work, they will be losers in the long run,” Mr. Patel said, adding that the merger should not be blamed for all the problems of Air India.

“I would like to put across.... if there are any problems, if there are losses and if they are systemic issues.. please do not put one attribute of merger. That is another issue,” he said.

“Even today, there are two streams in the organisation - one is domestic operations, which was earlier the Indian Airlines, and the other is Air India. But that doesn’t mean that anything is fundamentally wrong with the organisation. It takes time for the whole pyramid to build,” he said.

The Civil Aviation Minister said, “It is not that I conceived the merger. This merger discussion is going on in the Ministry from the days of J. R. D. Tata. .. chances were taken but nothing really fructified. Eventually it happened.”

Indiscipline will not be tolerated

Asserting that “indiscipline” in Air India would not be tolerated, Mr. Patel said he had given full freedom to the management to take any step to deal with disruptions like the recent strike.

“I had made it very clear to the management that you have full freedom and you must do whatever is necessary in these circumstances. This (strike) type of gross indiscipline will not be tolerated,” Mr. Patel told Karan Thapar in an interview for the CNN-IBN news channel.

Asked whether more employees would be sacked for going on strike, he said, “If they (airline management) feel, they are free to do it, we will not come into the picture.”

He distanced the government from the airline management’s decision to derecognise two unions and terminating the services of union leaders, saying it was for the management to take any decision.