India’s privatisation drive gains momentum

SETTING SALE
India’s privatisation drive gains momentum
Former Chairman of Tata Groups Ratan Tata AT AN Aero India show. The Tata Group have shown interest in acquiring ailing national carrier Air India. India’s ‘great public sector sell-off’ has begun in earnest with SCI attracting expressions of interest and the government earmarking other entities to offload as well.Courtesy: ANI

The sell-off in big private sector companies like Air India, BPCL, SCI and others is clearly in line with Prime Minister Modi’s statement that ‘the government has no business to be in business’.

India’s great public sector sell-off gathered steam this week with the government receiving “multiple bids” for Shipping Corporation of India (SCI).

"Multiple Expressions of Interest have been received for privatisation of Shipping Corporation of India Limited. The transaction will now move to the second stage," said Tuhin Kanta Pandey, Secretary, Department of Investment and Public Asset Management.

The government had invited bids expressions of interest for the entire 63.75 per cent it holds in the company. The successful bidder will gain management control of SCI. The last date for submitting bids was extended to March 1 from February 13 earlier.

In November 2020, the Modi government had approved the decision to privatise SCI. The implementation of this decision, however, got delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Multiple EoIs have been received for privatisation of Shipping Corporation. The transaction will now move to the second stage,’ said the Secretary of the department handling the sale.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the inauguration of the Maritime India Summit. Shipping Corporation of India is now set to be offloaded to private bidders keeping in line with the government’s plan to bring in the private sector into business.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the inauguration of the Maritime India Summit. Shipping Corporation of India is now set to be offloaded to private bidders keeping in line with the government’s plan to bring in the private sector into business.Courtesy: ANI

Government has no business to be in business, says Modi

Everything else will be sold to the private sector. Articulating this philosophy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a recent webinar on privatisation that “the government has no business to be in business”.

“When a government engages in business, it leads to losses. The government is bound by rules and the lack of courage to take bold commercial decisions… It is government's duty to support enterprises and businesses. But it is not essential that it should own and run enterprises… Fiscal support to sick PSUs puts a burden on the economy and public sector units should not be run just because of legacy,” he said, in a clear enunciation of his government’s priorities.

‘The government has no business to be in business… Fiscal support to sick PSUs puts a burden on the economy and PSUs should not be run just because of legacy,” said Modi.

Complete privatisation

In a clear break with past practice, the government has decided to actually sell public undertakings to private buyers with full transfer of management control. In recent years, the government has preferred, instead, to sell minority stakes in well run PSUs through IPOs, while retaining its grip over these companies.

Trade unions and political parties have said they will oppose the privatisation of ‘India’s crown jewels’. So, analysts expect some pushback against the decision to sell public assets.

In her Budget for 2021-22, Sitharaman has accounted for more than $25 billion from the privatisation of companies such as Air India, BPCL, SCI, Container Corporation of India (Concor), etc., as well as the sale of minority stakes in some others.

“A number of transactions namely Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd, Air India, Shipping Corp of India, Container Corp of India, IDBI Bank, BEML, Pawan Hans, Neelachal Ispat Nigam, among others would be completed in 2021-22,” she said.

The government is expected to sell two public sector banks and also launch an IPO for India’s largest insurance company, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India.

A view of the BPCL bottling plant. There has been expressions of interest from private players in companies like Air India, oil marketing company BPCL and air carrier Pawan Hans.
A view of the BPCL bottling plant. There has been expressions of interest from private players in companies like Air India, oil marketing company BPCL and air carrier Pawan Hans.Courtesy: ANI

Tatas, Vedanta, Apollo interested bidders

Several large companies including the Tata Group, Vedanta Group, Apollo Global and ISquared Capital, Spice Jet promoter Ajay Singh and many other Indian and foreign investors are believed to have submitted EoIs for the strategic sales of national carrier Air India, oil marketing company BPCL and air carrier Pawan Hans.

“The (privatisation) processes of Air India and BPCL are at a more advanced stage compared to other names, hence these will be the first off the blocks. We are targeting late-first quarter, early-second quarter to complete these deals,” a top government official said.

These transactions are expected to be completed by June-July this year, the official added.

Challenges ahead

However, it may not be as easy as that. Several trade unions and political parties have said they will oppose the privatisation of “India’s crown jewels”. So, analysts expect some pushback against the government’s decision to sell public assets.

But given the massive majority enjoyed by the government and its reputation for staying the course even on contested decisions, industry sources expect the privatisation of these companies to go through, albeit with a slight delay.

Related Stories

No stories found.

Podcast

No stories found.

Defence bulletin

No stories found.

The power of the quad

No stories found.

Videos

No stories found.

Women Leaders

No stories found.