New Delhi: At a time when the Central government is inviting preliminary bids to divest its entire stake in Air India, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Monday said the dues of the employees with arrears will be paid by the Air India assets holding company before the closing of the proposed transaction.

“The newly constituted Air India mechanism, headed by Home Minister, has approved to invite expression of interest from the interested bidders for strategic disinvestment of Air India,” Hardeep Singh Puri said.

The development comes as the Central government earlier in the day invited preliminary bids to divest its entire stake in Air India.

“Due to its accumulated debt of around Rs 60,000 crores the financial position could be described as very fragile and Air India can only be described as being under a debt trap,” the Civil Aviation Minister stated.

Talking about the bidding process, Puri stated that the process that the ministry has initiated today is qualitatively different from what happened in 2018. “A lot of things were happening in 2018. The external environment was not entirely conducive and we were short of Lok Sabha election. This time, we’re very clear in our approach,” he added.

The Central government, in an efforts to make Air India disinvestment more attractive, relaxed the bidding norms wherein networth for potential bidders has been fixed at Rs 3,500 crore and minimum stake for an individual consortium partner has been lowered to 10 per cent.

In 2018 when the government sought to offload 76 per cent stake in Air India, the networth amount and minimum consortium partner limit were set at Rs 5,000 crore and 26 per cent, respectively.