The Central Government is likely to extend the March 17 deadline for submitting bids to buy 100 per cent stake in Air India and the Home Minister led inter-ministerial panel will later this week decide on the new date.

Interested bidders can now have access to the “virtual data room” of Air India, officials said adding that more queries are expected to come in, which would be clarified by the Transaction Advisor and the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

The Government has already extended the deadline for bidders to raise queries on the proposed strategic sale of Air India to March 6 from February 11.

Officials said that the ministerial panel on Air India would meet later this week and decide on the new date for submission of Expression of Interest (EoI) by interested bidders.

The interested bidders can now get access to the virtual data room, which would also have the draft share purchase agreement (SPA), by paying a non-refundable fees of Rs 1 crore.

The ministerial panel - Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism (AISAM)- is headed by Home Minister Amit Shah and comprises Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri as other members.

The Government on January 27 issued the Preliminary Information Memorandum (PIM) inviting EoI for sale of 100 per cent stake in Air India. On February 21, it issued the first set of clarification answering queries regarding the ‘confidentiality undertaking’

The Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM), which is overseeing the strategic sale of Air India, clarified that bidders will have the flexibility to change the structure of the consortium from the time of signing of non-disclosure pact for access to data room till submission of EoI.

It also clarified that a bidder and its affiliate are not allowed to put in bids separately and can only submit EoI as a consortium.

The Government last month restarted the divestment process of Air India and invited bids for selling 100 per cent of its equity in the state-owned airline, including Air India’s 100 per cent shareholding in AI Express and 50 per cent in Air India SATS Airport Services Private Ltd.

Interested bidders for Air India should have a net worth of Rs 3,500 crore.

After its unsuccessful bid to sell Air India in 2018, the government this time has decided to offload its entire stake. In 2018, the government had offered to sell its 76 per cent stake in the airline.

Of the total debt of Rs 60,074 crore as on March 31, 2019, the buyer would be required to absorb Rs 23,286.5 crore, while the rest would be transferred to Air India Assets Holding Ltd (AIAHL), the special purpose vehicle.

As a precursor to Air India sale, the Cabinet in February 2019 approved setting up AIAHL to transfer Rs 29,464 crore worth loans of the national carrier and its four subsidiaries-- Air India Air Transport Services (AIATSL), Airline Allied Services (AASL), Air India Engineering Services Ltd (AIESL) and Hotel Corporation of India (HCI).

Also non-core assets - painting and artifacts - as well as other non-operational assets of the national carrier too will be transferred to the SPV.