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Verdict on oil selloff deferred

New Delhi, Sept. 5: The Supreme Court today reserved its verdict on government’s decision to offload its stake in Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL).

A division bench comprising Justices S. Rajendra Babu and G. P. Mathur heard the batch of petitions challenging the government policy of disinvestment in the two oil majors.

Challenging the plan was Association of Oil Sector Officers, represented by legal eagle and Rajya Sabha member Rajya Sabha Fali Nariman, and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), represented by senior counsel and former Union law minister Shanti Bhushan.

The petitioners argued that an executive order could not authorise disinvestment in companies that were nationalised by passing a law to that effect in Parliament.

The government, Nariman said, could not disinvest in oil sector, which was nationalised by a legislation in Parliament. “Can an executive order reverse the enactment of Parliament nationalising the oil sector companies'” Nariman asked during the course of the hearing.

He argued that a Parliamentary system required the government to follow norms and approach parliament to either repeal the nationalisation act or amend it suitably so that it can sell its shares. “This cannot be done without repealing the earlier legislation nationalising the oil sector.”

Pointing to the difference between the Balco selloff and the proposed disinvestment in the oil sector, he said the aluminium major was not nationalised by an act of Parliament, but the two petroleum companies were.

Shanti Bhushan echoed the same line, contending that once the nationalisation act set a policy for the government in public interest, no executive order could alter it.

However, senior counsel and former solicitor general Harish Salve, appearing on behalf of the Union government, contended that the nationalisation act did not bar the government or the executive from selling its shares since the law is uniform for all public sector undertakings, whether it is Balco, Bhel or Maruti.

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