NEW DELHI:  Debt-ridden national carrier Air India, which is still looking for a prospective buyer, has ferried more than 12,69,000 people over the last three months under the Vande Bharat Mission. The Vande Bharat Mission is being undertaken by the Government of India and the Ministry of Civil Aviation to repatriate Indians who are stuck in various countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s data, the Vande Bharat Mission has so far repatriated Indians from 94 countries to different states in India.

The highest number of Indian expats who have been brought back to India is from the UAE. More than 4 lakh people from the UAE have been brought back to India in Air India flights that have been operating under the Vande Bharat mission. UAE is followed by other Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia from where more than 1,63,000 Indians were brought back to India. Oman, Qatar and Kuwait also added to a significant number of people who came back to India from these countries.

The Gulf countries have the highest numbers of Indian emigrant workers living and working and the sudden lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic had caused a lot of worries for these people after which the national carrier, in agreement with the respective governments, was roped in to bring them back home.

The Vande Bharat Mission also helped repatriate about 671 Indians from Pakistan.

More than one lakh Indians also headed back home from developed countries like the United Kingdom and United States combined. It is to be noted that the USA at one point was adding the highest number of daily Covid-19 cases in the world. The repatriation mission being carried out by Air India has led to aviation industry insiders think about the importance of the national carrier at a time the government is looking to sell off the debt-ridden airline.

The sale of Air India, which was expected to be completed by this year, has now been pushed back due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Sources in the Ministry of Civil aviation have said that the government is looking to further dilute terms and conditions of the sale as it could not still find a prospective buyer.

Sources in the Ministry also said that one of the terms which could be diluted in further rounds of bidding is that the government could do away with the clause that the new buyer would have to buy the airline along with its $3.3 billion debt. The government hopes to find a buyer when this rule is relaxed. Air India, which is currently being kept afloat by taxpayers’ money, has one of the most prime assets in the country. Air India also holds some of the prime landing and take-off spots at the choked Heathrow airport in London.

The airline also has more than 100 fleet of aircraft, trained pilots and staff, apart from having a specialised Engineering Services for aircraft maintenance and overhaul.