October 3, 2002
India Not For Sale, Say Lawyers
By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – Authorities were criticised last evening for selling off “profitable’’ public sector undertakings (PSUs) in the name of disinvestment.
Participants at a seminar on “India on Sale’’ at the Indian Law Institute in the Capital questioned government disinvestment policy and practice.
The seminar was organised by R. K. Garg Memorial Society set up to commemorate a onetime noted Member of the Supreme Court Bar who, organisers said, was known for espousing common causes.
Speakers cited the sale of Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd and Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, which, they said, had been profitable ventures.
They also criticised the sale of some hotels which they said were worth more in sheer real estate terms than the prices for which they were sold.
“It is to be seen as to whether the sale of VSNL… Balco and certain hotels are good sale so as to subserve common good,’’ said Ravi Prakash Gupta, an advocate representing the Society.
He assailed malpractices surfacing in once giant multinationals, such as Enron, some of whose directors swindled funds while workers were denied even pensions.
The speakers included retired Supreme Court Judge S. C. Agrawal, S.C. Bar Association President S. K. Jain and Delhi Power Supply Co Ltd Chief Jagdish Sagar.
Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid, listed to take part, did not attend.
Sagar, who headed Delhi Vidyut Board before it was privatised, defended liberalisation, saying choosing economic policies to pursue was a democratic exercise.
Several speakers, however, said liberalisation should attract foreign investment and technology for India’s all round growth— not result in handing over profit making projects or lending to foreign firms to carry out projects.
“Arm-twisting’’ by vested interests and “pulls and pressures’’ applied by rating agencies intended to punish the government rather than reflect economic reality came under attack.
One speaker said it was wrong to argue that investment in public sector had been a waste, as was sought to be projected.
He said it had helped create a vast infrastructure for industrial development, acknowledged globally as early as the 1980s.
He cited recent findings by the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy, a Mumbai based business research firm, that India’s 380-odd PSUs earned 628,600 crore last year and paid more than Rs 10,000 crore dividend and that the top 20 of them reported nearly Rs 26,000 crore profit as against Rs 13,000 crore losses reported by 150 loser ventures, a performance especially credible considering that PSUs engage far many more employees than private sector.