<b>XIII LOK SABHA DEBATES, <i> Session II (Winter Session) </i> </b>
XIII LOK SABHA DEBATES, Session II (Winter Session) Friday, December 17, 1999/Agrahayana 26, 1921 (Saka )

Title: Discussion regarding Disinvestment Policy of Government raised by Shri Indrajit Gupta on the 16th of December, 1999 (Cont. - Concluded).

14.21 hours

MR. CHAIRMAN: The House will now continue the discussion under rule 193. Shri Sudip Bandyopadhyay.

SHRI SUDIP BANDYOPADHYAY (CALCUTTA NORTH WEST): Sir, today, while initiating the discussion under rule 193 on `Disinvestment policy of Government', I would rather propose to consider the economic and humanitarian aspects of the problem. Unemployment has reached sky-rocketing heights. In addition to that, if disinvestment and closure of public sector units take place, it will be a real challenge and a difficulty for those employed in the various Central public sector units, the number of which has been mentioned by hon. Members who spoke before me; and the problem of unemployment will not only be acute but will also cross all limits of tolerance.

What are the main reasons for sickness? The basic reasons for sickness were investigated by the Committee on Public Undertakings last time and I was a Member of that Committee and a few reasons were detected. Those were low capacity utilization, frequent equipment break-down, ageing of plants, power shortages, industrial relations problems and lack of competitiveness. Some proposals for remedial action were also mentioned in the last Report of the Committee on Public Undertakings like induction of new technology, budgetary support and rationalization of management.

We urge the Government to consider on top most priority the disinvestment proposals and the proposals declared for closure and VRS and announce its ideas and attitude. We feel that the Government is in total confusion and that it has failed to project its views and ideas. What are their ideas so far as the disinvestment policy is concerned?

I congratulate the new Minister. I think, he has his own dynamism, he has his own imagination and he has his farsightedness and managerial efficiency. I believe that with all these qualities, he would try to go into the details and realize the problems which have been mentioned here in a very broad-based manner.

A Disinvestment Commission was formed on 23.08.1996. This Commission submitted its 12th report and the United Front Government could not do anything about that report. Now, the BJP-led Government in which we are also a partner also did not do anything and this Commission's report is gathering dust only. That Commission, after three long years of its tenure, submitted its report and what is the fate of that report? How far are the recommendations being considered? What are the views expressed on it? May I know whether the Government is going to accept it or not? Some positive announcement and some positive ideas are to be placed before the House.

We are also concerned with a few of the Central Public Sector Units in the State of West Bengal. Hon. Minister, Kumari Mamata Banerjee made an appeal to the hon. Prime Minister and the hon. Prime Minister categorically assured that some alternative revival packages would be considered before declaring closure of a few Central Public Sector Units. Some such Public Sector Undertakings are: Mining and Allied Machinery Corporation (MAMC), National Bicycle Corporation of India Limited (NBCIL), Cycle Corporation of India, Bharat Opthalmic Glass Limited, National Instruments Limited, Weighleord India Limited, Tannery and Footwear Corporation Limited (TAFCO) - of course, this is in Lucknow which is hon. Prime Minister's constituency - and Rehabilitation Industries Corporation of India.

The Prime Minister assured that so far as these Central Public Sector Units are concerned, before their declared closure, they will be kept under consideration. Hon. Minister Shri Pramod Mahajan also, on behalf of the Central Government, in a rally at the Brigade Parade Ground categorically assured that the Cabinet will hold a meeting to consider the proposal about which the hon. Prime Minister made us aware. We will have to enquire whether it is a fact at all. An amount of Rs.517 crore is required for discharging workers' liabilities on account of VRS and an amount of Rs.300 crore is required for rehabilitation. If an amount of Rs.300 crore is allotted, then they can reconsider it. The Government is running fast now behind the VR Scheme.

Coming to PESB, it was set up on 30.08.1974; in PESB, senior level postings are taken away by the retired bureaucrats. The PESB has now become a heaven for the retired bureaucrats who are heading the Central Public Sector Units either as the Chairmen or as the Managing Directors. We would appeal to the hon. Minister that instead of making the Central Public Sector Units as the heaven for the retired bureaucrats, they should ensure participation of the workers in management. If we find that representation of workers is there in the management, then we firmly believe that there will be a sense of higher production and a good environment. The management is to be managed in the managerial way and not to be managed by the bureaucracy only. We have very well established Central Public Sector Units in our country.

MR. CHAIRMAN : Please conclude now.

SHRI SUDIP BANDYOPADHYAY : They are called as Navarathnas. Some of the very well run Public Sector Undertakings are: BHEL, SAIL, NTPC, NHPC, ITI, IOC, VSNL, NFL, RCF, Indian Airlines, GAIL, etc. They have established their command and credibility.

So far as the Central PSUs are concerned - about which Shri Basu Deb Acharia was mentioning the other day - there are 246 Central PSUs.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Shri Sudip Bhandyopadhyay, please conclude now.

SHRI SUDIP BANDYOPADHYAY : I have just started. Please give me five minutes more.

Out of that, we have 11 excellently run CPSUs. 97 profit-making PSUs are there which are known as mini-ratnas. And 108 Central PSUs have been offered strategic buyers. What does the strategic sale imply? Is it a fact that the strategic sale implies sale of a substantial block of government holding to a single party which will acquire substantial equity holding of 60 per cent? If it is a fact then gradually this strategic buyer will automatically become the key holder of the company. So, the Government should come out categorically what does it want to say.

Public Sector Modernisation Fund should be immediately established. This will provide financial assistance to the PSUs. This will help in restructuring as well as modernisation of the PSUs. What role does this fund play, we would like to know. Standing Conference of Public Enterprises have proposed to set up a Restructuring Commission to plan a long term strategy for PSUs. This Commission would evolve an overall strategy for PSUs and would not look at sale to bridge fiscal deficit.

We are positively opposed to the idea of disinvestment. From the very beginning it appeared that Shri Yashwant Sinha, the hon. Finance Minister was not looking after the problems seriously as he was over-burdened with his ministerial job. We firmly believed that, when a separate Ministry had been announced, a person like Shri Arun Jaitley will definitely look into the problems. If necessary, he will call tripartite meetings, take the unions into confidence or consult those who are really capable of giving good ideas. The Committee on Public on Undertakings went in great detail about restructuring of sick units, modernisation of the units or making sick units viable. Such reports need to be looked into. The Government should not act in a bias way as this will not only result into unemployment but also may create other social problems. We feel that these disinvestment proposals are to be dealt with very firmly. Top priority should be given to give relief to the working class of our country.

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SHRI A.C. JOS (TRICHUR): Sir, it is unfair that you are not giving me an opportunity. I have given notice to speak on this discussion under Rule 193...(Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: I have discussed it with Leaders of all Parties. We have to complete this discussion under Rule 193 and at 3 p.m., we have to take up the Private Members' Business. So, please cooperate with the Chair.

... (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: I am appealing to the hon. Members to please cooperate with the Chair today. Now, the Minister may reply.

... (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: What is the importance that this should continue for three days? I am appealing to you all to please cooperate with the Chair. More than eight Members have spoken on this subject. So, I am appealing to you to please cooperate with the Chair today.

THE MINISTER OF STATE OF THE MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND BROADCASTING AND MINISTER OF STATE OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DISINVESTMENT (SHRI ARUN JAITLEY): Mr. Speaker Sir, I am extremely grateful to you for this opportunity to respond to some very valuable opinions which have been expressed by several hon. Members yesterday and today.

There had been two broad arguments made on the disinvestment policy. The first argument had been on the desirability of the disinvestment policy itself and the second, on the manner in which it has been implemented, if at all. I must confess that I was a little surprised that this question of desirability of having such a policy is raised eight years after it has been implemented by three successive Governments. The policy is not a creation since 1998. The thinking process on disinvestment in PSUs started in 1991-92. In fact, in the Industrial Policy Statement and in the Budget speech of 1991 itself, Dr. Manmohan Singh categorically said:

"In the case of selected enterprises, a part of Government's holding in equity share capital of these enterprises will be disinvested in order to provide further market discipline to the performance of the public sector enterprises."

The process started in 1991. Yesterday, when Shri Dasmunsi was accusing the Government of liquidating public assets, I merely wanted to remind him, through you Sir, of what the Finance Minister had said in his Budget speech of 1991 in this regard. He was belonging to Shri Dasmunsi's own party. Dr. Manmohan Singh had said in his Budget speech of 1991 like this:

"For the founding fathers of our Republic, a public sector that would be vibrant, modern, competitive and capable of generating large surpluses was a vital element in the strategy of development. The public sector has made an important contribution to the diversification of our industrial economy but there have been a number of shortcomings. In particular, the public sector has not been able to generate internal surpluses on a large enough scale. At this critical juncture, it has therefore become necessary to take effective measures so as to make the public sector an engine of growth rather than (and I emphasise) an absorbent of national savings without adequate return. This has been widely accepted but the thought and action in this regard are still far apart. To bridge this gap, the portfolio of public sector investment would be reviewed so as to concentrate future operations of the public sector in areas that are strategic for our nation, require high technology for our economy and are essential for infrastructure. In order to raise resources, encourage wider participation and promote greater accountability upto 20 per cent of the Government equity in selected public sector undertakings would be offered to mutual funds and investments in institutions in the public sector undertakings as also to the workers of these funds."

In fact, if I may mention, the argument of the then Finance Minister was that it is not to really bridge the fiscal deficit; the public sector is absorbing a part of the national savings and thereby creating, at times, a fiscal deficit. That was the argument advanced in 1991...(Interruptions)

SHRI ANIL BASU (ARAMBAGH): What happened to the Rs.18,000 crore?

SHRI ARUN JAITLEY: I will come to the Rs.18,000 crore also. I would tell you how much of it has been ploughed back into the public sector. I will give you all the figures.

In 1996, when the United Front Government took over, the Common Minimum Programme was framed. Today, Shri Indrajit Gupta, one of our senior-most Members, said that he is, in principle, opposed to disinvestment. But the CMP did not say that it was opposed to disinvestment. In 1996, the CMP mentioned - to which the Left Parties were also a party - that the question of withdrawing the public sector from the non-core, non-strategic areas would be carefully examined subject, however, to assuring the workers and the employees of job security or, in the alternative, opportunities for retaining and redeployment.

What happened during the period 1991 to 1996? Shri Dasmunsi asked us: "Why are you selling the shares of Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum?" I just wish to correct him that not one share of the Hindustan Petroleum and the Bharat Petroleum has been sold since 1996. But it was certainly sold when the Congress Party was in power. The first share to be sold was in 1991 when the Congress Party was in power and that party implemented this disinvestment. They also asked us: "Why do you sell the shares of the Navratnas? Since 1991-92, it was the shares of the BHEL, Bharat Petroleum, the Hindustan Petroleum, the Steel Authority of India, GAIL, MTNL, Indian Oil and, ONGC which were sold when Dr. Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister...(Interruptions)

Therefore, they merely get up and ask why are the shares of the Navratnas sold, why are the shares of the Bharat Petroleum and the Hindustan Petroleum being sold. Since 1998, not one share of these companies has been sold. But, it was certainly sold when the Congress Party was in power.

Sir, I read in the newspapers some days ago that in one of their party meetings, the then Finance Minister was criticised for some of his economic policies. I do not know whether this submission was a carry forward of that inner party debate into this House. I say this because the disinvestment took place when the Congress Party itself was in power. The same argument was raised with regard to the Navratnas as to why their shares are being sold. But even when the United Front Government was in power, the proposal of the VSNL and the MTNL to disinvest the shares of Indian Oil was, in principle, accepted during that period.