Just when Hardeep Puri seemed to have settled down in the urban affairs ministry, he was given the charge of the high-profile civil aviation too. In an interview with TOI the minister talks about the challenges facing real estate and aviation sectors and his strategy to deal with them.
Excerpts:

The housing ministry has a key role in resolving the issue of home buyers in stuck projects. The Supreme Court has also asked Centre to come out with a plan. What is the way out?

Our ability to be in the game to find a solution was circumscribed by the fact that home buyers went to the apex court. Once the apex court is seized of a matter, we cannot have a branch of the government stepping in. Let the apex court judgement come in one of these cases, then we will see from there.

The high-powered committee set up by UP government had made specific recommendations but nothing seems to have happened, while everyone had expected some action in limited timeframe. What is the status?

Even now, we can operate within that timeframe. The committee has done its work and has given its recommendations. Some actions have to be taken by the state government, some by banks and some by other government departments.

The Jaypee case is back in SC and it has been two years since the resolution process started. Yet there is no clarity…

A resolution professional was appointed to find a solution. It’s before NCLT. In this case, a higher judicial body is directing the entire course of operation. So, it’s in entire realm of the SC. None of us can intervene in this unless the court disposes of the matter or gives direction.

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There are 200 real estate related cases under IBC and there has been only one decision. Is there a need for special dispensation to deal with such cases?

Corporate affairs ministry deals with this issue. My limited role is to build an eco-system for the sector. Now, no one has doubts over real estate regulation law (RERA). RERA has disposed of 20,000 cases through resolution. We have gone from the discourse of RERA having no teeth to people now saying Maharashtra RERA is biting too strong. There is cleaning at the point of production. In new projects, people will think twice in doing things in the old way.

What all steps have been taken to discipline the housing sector?

A lot of steps have been taken in the past two years for affordable housing. Effect of RERA is now visible. Some players in this sector are losing. But my suggestion is you should not judge all this by only three projects in Delhi. In neighbouring Haryana, it’s doing well. The sector is pretty much clean in Bengaluru and Mumbai. It’s a matter of perception. You sort out these three problems — Unitech, Japyee and Amrapali — in NCR, the public discourse will change.

What are immediate challenges for the aviation sector?

If you leave four months when Jet was down, there has been sustained growth. The demand for air travel is huge. Our domestic carriers are ready to operate on international routes. If you take out the debt, Air India is a damn good airline. With the Jet collapse, there is greater opportunity for the national carrier.

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Interestingly, everybody in this sector is making money — from original equipment manufacturers to ancillary service providers, airports and lessors. Only airlines are losing. This is because 40% of the operating cost is ATF (jet fuel), which is very high. They are operating on very thin margin. They are subject to high insurance risk. The closure of Pakistan air space costs AI over Rs 400 crore.

Capacity is now a constraint at many airports. How are you dealing with expansion since new airports will take time to come up?

We have a greenfield airport policy. But this is demand driven. We are not waiting for the capacity of an airport to saturate and we are giving approval for second airport. For example, Dholera is coming up near Ahmedabad. Delhi airport today handles nearly 73 million passengers and it can handle 100 million. But we have started work for second airport at Jewar. What is Dubai? It’s a strong example of failure of India. We need to develop Indian cities as hubs so that we carry more passengers. We have 600 planes and in a matter of time the number will reach 1,000 and more.

How do you propose to make India a hub?

To start with, the government should not be in the airline business. You are in a cut throat business and you have to take quick decision.

Up to 49% holding by foreign carriers is allowed and the FDI review may result in an increase. Will it help AI disinvestment?

My gut feeling is that this should remain in Indian hands, an Indian company. What the company does is a separate issue. There is something in this brand which is of sentiment. If you look at the FDI announcement — 100% is allowed in ground handling and other areas. We should bring as much FDI as we can, but under careful conditions.

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