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Joshi brings in security angle

New Delhi, Sept. 22 (PTI): Union minister for human resources development Murli Manohar Joshi today voiced caution over privatisation of PSUs in sectors like oil, saying any decision in this area needs to be evaluated vis-a-vis larger issues like national security.

Though he emphasised the need for a review of the disinvestment policy, Joshi said: “A review does not mean a reversal or backtracking.”

Dismissing allegations that the review was prompted by opposition from the RSS or the Swadeshi Jagran Manch or the forthcoming Assembly polls, he said: “It is not because of the RSS or anything else.”

“There are certain sectors which have larger relations with national security. The energy sector, for instance, is important for economic security, food security and transport sector. Before embarking on privatisation of the energy sector, we must think,” he said.

Asked if the government was backtracking from the policy of being a facilitator rather than running the business, the minister said: “For the government to be out of business is one thing and national security is another”. Expressing reservations on privatising PSUs like HPCL and BPCL, he said inclusion of a “strategic partner means privatisation. We have to think whether to sell to the public or to a strategic partner”.

He said such reviews were common to any government but the issue was hyped due to the oil sector and the letter written by defence minister George Fernandes to the Prime Minister.

Highlighting the importance of oil sector, he said, “our petro product imports amount to Rs 90,000 crore now and may go up to Rs 1,20,000 crore if the present trend continues.

“Can we afford such high amount of forex everytime. We have once thought that India should go for solar energy but it is costly.”

Although it appeared that the entire debate on disinvestment was concentrated on oil sector, the minister said, “it is not”. The debate on disinvestment focussed on whether to take the route of strategic partners or public offering. “The PM has postponed the decision for three months. By this time we will decide on this issue,” he added.

Joshi also dismissed the notion that delay in disinvestment was being reflected in the stock market and India’s local currency ratings by S&P, and saying the economic performance was not dependent on share market index. “Only a small fraction of the population is dependent on share market. Any adverse effect in the market affects only this small fraction,” he added.

Joshi said reforms were right on track. “Certain issues have been raised but there is no contradiction on self-reliance and reforms,” he said.

However, he added that there was a need to assess what gains have been achieved from the reform policy and what were the shortfalls and whether the speed of reforms was right.

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