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Bihar to sell PSU assets

Patna, Jan. 12: The Bihar government, embarrassed by reports of unpaid public sector undertaking employees killing themselves, has decided to liquidate the units.

Of the 45 units in the red, the state would dispose of 18 this month, state minister for small-scale industries Ravindra Charan Yadav said.

News of multiple suicides had rocked the state in August. Media reports prompted Kapila Hingorani of Delhi to file a petition in the Supreme Court, according to which 88,572 employees in 45 public sector units had not received their salaries.

Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav had earlier ruled out liquidation, citing the government’s inability to clear financial liabilities of the units because of a cash crunch. He is said to have changed his mind after neighbouring Chhattisgarh streamlined its public sector by integrating 15 units into nine, after shedding flab.

“We had initially wanted to sell these to private entrepreneurs interested in running the units,” Ravindra Yadav said. “As no prospective buyers are available, the state will sell the assets of these companies to pay the pending dues of employees.”

The Agro Industries Corporation, Khadi Gram Udyog Corporation and Small Finances Corporation are among the 18 units. These are now almost defunct, run down by corruption and mismanagement.

The units have not produced records of their accounts for 15 years.

Today, their offices present a grim picture. The employees, unpaid for the last six years, now sell vegetables, tobacco and other consumables on the street.

Laloo Prasad, however, iterated that the state had no commitment towards these employees because they were never part of the government workforce.

“Whatever we are doing is strictly in accordance with the Patna High Court order directing the state to sell off the assets and arrange to pay salaries,” he said.

The money thus generated would be just about enough to pay the employees, but not to clear the outstanding loans, Laloo Prasad said.

At first, the state had planned total disinvestment of these units. But a dearth of investors forced a change in plan.

According to Ravindra Charan, the units would now be sold in parts. Assets such as cars, machinery, stock (goods) and other infrastructure would be auctioned to the highest bidders.

“The cars, which have been gathering rust, must be sold immediately. Later, we won’t get any price for them,” he said.

Ravindra Charan allayed fears of mass retrenchment. A part of the workforce would be shifted to government departments after requisite training. “But this would apply to those who are young and hardworking,” he said.

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