New Delhi, Dec. 18: The government today asserted its executive right to sell public sector oil companies — Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum — during a stormy debate in the Lok Sabha.
The statement came after fissures reappeared in the NDA ranks with the Samata Party threatening to walk out of the ministry within 15 days if the government went ahead with its plans to sell its holding in the state-owned companies.
While the threat is not considered serious, it does signify the extent of dissatisfaction that still remains within the BJP-led coalition government on the issue, despite a patchwork pact the Prime Minister had hammered together on December 5.
Disinvestment minister Arun Shourie attacked Opposition parties for contesting privatisation of PSUs, including the profit-making ones, despite the fact that states ruled by these parties were following the Centre’s disinvestment model.
He asserted that the Congress-sponsored legislative gridlock created by its demand for the repeal of the Acts under which the two oil PSUs were taken over by the government about 30 years ago had no merit.
Quoting from the Constitution, Shourie said the government had the executive power to divest equity in nationalised firms functioning under the Companies Law but, in view of the suggestions, the issue of HPCL and BPCL had been referred to the attorney-general. He said the Congress had divested 49 per cent stake in HPCL and 34 per cent in BPCL without approaching Parliament.
The Lok Sabha was thrown into turmoil earlier when Samata MP Prabhunath Singh issued the pullout threat. Singh’s party colleague and defence minister George Fernandes had been at the forefront of the attack on some features of the selloff policy.