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Sub-51% drill in oil PSUs

Finance ministry would soon approach the cabinet to bring down the government’s stake in some of the state-owned firms

By R. Suryamurthy in New Delhi
  • Published 11.07.19, 12:02 AM
  • Updated 11.07.19, 12:02 AM
  • a min read
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GAIL India is among the state-owned oil firms in focus for divestment by the Union government (Shutterstock)

State-owned oil firms ONGC, Indian Oil Corporation and GAIL India are the likely candidates for selloffs that would take the government holding in them to below 51 per cent — which was announced by Nirmala Sitharaman in the budget. The government would, however, like to wield management control in them, which is the case in many private sector companies where the promoters hold less than 50 per cent but still runs the operations.

Officials said the finance ministry would soon approach the cabinet to bring down the government’s stake in some of the state-owned firms to below 51 per cent.

They said cabinet clearance would be sought for five or 10 PSUs, in which the government would bring down its stake to below 51 per cent, at one go so that clearance is not sought on a case-by-case basis. The Centre directly holds 64.24 per cent in ONGC, the government’s most profitable cash cow. LIC holds 9.47 per cent equity in the oil giant, while Indian Oil and Gas Authority have 7.84 per cent and 2.45 per cent stakes, respectively.

Under the new plan, the government could easily sell a 20 per cent stake in ONGC, which at current prices could fetch over Rs 40,400 crore. Some of the blue-chip PSUs where the government holds stakes near the 51-per-cent mark — and were feeling constrained to sell the shares — include Indian Oil Corporation, where it holds 52.18 per cent, Bharat Petroleum Corporation (53.29 per cent), GAIL India (52.64 per cent) and PowerGrid Corporation (55.37 per cent).

Officials said in many PSUs the government stake may be a little over 51 per cent, but if the shares of state-controlled financial institutions were considered, the aggregate holdings would go beyond 80 per cent.

“Effectively, the government holds more than 80 per cent in most of the PSUs. If all these put together can be permitted to go only up to 51 per cent, then we will get a lot of leg room to dilute government holding to below 51 per cent,” they said.