Opposition party Indian National Congress has questioned the government's decision to sell Pawan Hans Ltd (PHL), the public sector helicopter and aero mobility services provider, to Star9 Mobility Pvt Ltd for ₹211.14 crore. The party has expressed doubts over the manner in which PHL became a loss-making entity since 2018-19 and has asked whether it was an attempt to lower the valuation to ease the disinvestment process.
The party wanted to know whether the government had considered the request made by the employees of PHL to merge the company with ONGC, the PSU which holds 49% stake in Pawan Hans, before deciding to divest the government's 51% stake in the company. It also sought an explanation from the government for selecting the only bidder that had quoted above the government fixed reserve price of ₹199.92 crore as the other two bids were below the reserve price, and could not be considered. INC spokesperson Gourav Vallabh also pointed out that among the three companies that bid for PHL through a consortium Star9 Mobility Private Ltd, one had a small fleet size and another was registered in Cayman Islands, both, according to him, are red flags.
Vallabh said Pawan Hans is Southeast Asia's largest helicopter company with a fleet of 42 helicopters and plays a very important role because of its offshore operations, connectivity to inaccessible areas, charter services, search and rescue work, VIP transportation, heli-pilgrim services to centres like Kedarnath, Badrinath, Amarnath, Maa Vaishno Devi temple etc.
On April 29, the government said that the Alternative Mechanism, empowered by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, comprising Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Minister for Finance & Corporate Affairs and Jyotiraditya M. Scindia, Union Minister of Civil Aviation, has approved the highest bid of Star9 Mobility for sale of the government's entire shareholding in PHL and transfer of management control. The government also stated that ONGC, which holds the balance 49%, has also decided to offer its entire shareholding to the successful bidder identified in the strategic disinvestment transaction, on the same price and terms.
CCEA had approved the strategic disinvestment of stake in PHL in October, 2016. The transaction had been attempted thrice in the past.