Mumbai, Sept. 6: Disinvestment minister Arun Shourie has built his case for privatising Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum on figures and arguments spiced with one-liners.
Asked whether he will resign if he loses the battle tomorrow, he smiled and said: “Anyway, I can always write. Khudkhushi toh nahin kar sakte (After all, I can’t commit suicide).”
Articulating his views at a meeting here yesterday, Shourie said the perceived security threat is unfounded as many ports are now under private companies. In some cases, the ports are also owned by multinationals.
Besides, bids have been called for oil exploration blocks — some of which are controlled by foreign companies. Many of the blocks have been mapped by these foreign companies in their effort to discover natural gas and oil.
Finally, two-thirds of India’s oil requirement are being imported. “So, where is the security issue'” Shourie asked.
Shourie also responded to fears that monopolies could be created if the oil giants are controlled by private companies — a concern expressed by defence minister George Fernandes while opposing the strategic sale of the state-run units.
“The days of monopolies restrictive trade practices are over. Then there is an institution called a regulator. It will restrict any company from using any undue advantage arising out of a monopoly,” Shourie said.
The former journalist’s clinching argument against monopoly worries: “You are not going to penalise the village cobbler just because he is the only cobbler in the village.”
Shourie also justified his reservations against suggestions to let other state-run units or financial institutions buy the government stake in the two oil firms.
He described it as “changing structures without changing ownership”. Building his case, he referred to the controversy over petrol pump dealer selection boards, which have faced charges of favouritism and the misuse of power.
Shourie quoted statistics to claim that strategic sales do work. He said the private owners of Balco have announced an expansion plan involving Rs 6,000 crore after the divestment. Paradeep Phosphates has tripled production in six months since privatisation.
Modern Foods, where a new wage deal gave each worker a raise of Rs 1,600, raised productivity to 94 per cent.
None of this is being financed by the government, unlike SAIL which was given Rs 10,000 crore and UTI Rs 14,000 crore just to stay afloat.
Responding to demands that PSUs should be disinvested to the Indian public as Margaret Thatcher did in the UK, Shourie asked: “Does our capital markets have the same depth as they do' We have tried to raise capital for a PSU major like GAIL, but the issue bombed. There were no takers even at a low price of Rs 60.”