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Build-up to selloff meeting begins

New Delhi, Dec. 13: The disinvestment ministry has sought a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment (CCD) next week to discuss the sale of government equity in oil marketing majors HPCL and BPCL.

Disinvestment secretary Pradip Baijal said the Cabinet secretariat has been requested to see if ministers can go into the huddle some time next week.

Asked if Indian companies would be debarred from bidding for HPCL, he said he was not aware of any such move. His comments came at the end of a week when the government said it would offload its holding in HPCL to a strategic investor, while BPCL shares would be sold to the public in a maiden flotation.

On the stalled due diligence of Nalco, Baijal said he hoped visits by prospective buyers to the company’s plant in Orissa would resume soon. He was emphatic that the aluminium major would not fall in the category of natural-asset companies — guidelines for which are yet to be drawn up by the disinvestment department and the finance ministry.

“In my understanding, Nalco is not a natural asset company. Even so, we have to decide on the matter.” Companies like Kudremukh Iron Ore Company (KIOCL), National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) will be treated as natural asset companies.

Speaking at the Ficci’s session, Baijal said post-closure agreements were reached only in those cases where government felt there would be no bidders. “No buyer would come forward to bid for the company based on previous year’s balance sheet.”

Arguing that the disinvestment policy should be evaluated on performance, he said the process was transparent. The ministry will bring out a second edition listing the government’s policies and procedures on disinvestment of PSUs within the next 15 days. The loss of some jobs cannot, he said, be seen as a deterrent in the long-term reform process.

Even as Baijal tried to raise the selloff tempo, communications minister Pramod Mahajan told reporters on the sidelines of an e-governance conference here that BSNL and MTNL would not be sold in the next two years. “One of them is not even a listed entity, while the other was already a largely disinvested company. I am sure there is no proposal for disinvestment in the two telecom companies now.”

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