The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shourie tight-lipped on selloff nuances

New Delhi, Dec. 12: “Any statement I make will only create more problems,” disinvestment minister Arun Shourie said today as he tried to duck a barrage of questions from reporters on issues related to the selloff programme that appeared to come back on course after last week’s compromise formula.

Shourie— the main speaker at a special session organised here today by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) to discuss ways to sharpen India’s competitive edge in a post-WTO scenario—was keen to avoid answering a welter of questions over whether or not Indian companies would be allowed to bid for Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL).

A report had said that neither public sector companies nor private Indian firms including Reliance would be allowed to bid for HPCL under the compromise formula that enabled both sides to climb down from their irreconcilable positions. It added only foreign oil companies would be allowed to bid. The list of suitors includes Shell, British Petroleum and Petronas of Malaysia.

The government has decided to offer management control in HPCL to a strategic investor and sell a part of its stake in BPCL through a public offer of shares. The government holds a 51 per cent stake in HPCL and 65 per cent in BPCL. It still has to work out the nitty-gritties of the selloff process. The Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment (CCD) is scheduled to meet next week where a detailed discussion on these issues will be held.

Information has been sketchy on the compromise formula that was hammered out at an informal meeting called by the Prime Minister with key proponents and opponents of the selloff process on December 5. Shourie, who made a statement on the issue in Parliament on Monday, also refused to divulge the full details of the compromise giving rise to suspicions that there were some thorny issues that still needed to be resolved.

“I will not comment on anything...Parliament is in session,” Shourie told reporters after the session. But he was clearly hurt by criticism that he had abandoned the high principles on which he had battled the opponents of the selloff process at the altar of political expediency.

“There has been give and take on both sides. Any decision is a collective responsibility of all the people who are party to it,” Shourie told a packed gathering of industrialists who were present on the occasion.

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