NEW DELHI: Despite the government halting disinvestment in telecom PSUs, BSNL and MTNL - North Bloc intends to aggressively follow a policy of disinvestment including strategic disinvestment after Diwali. The Prime Minister’s Office that stayed the BSNL and MTNL disinvestment partly on political grounds and partly on advice by the bureaucracy that a state-run telecom entity is required, especially for sensitive areas, has however advised the ministry to go in for strategic sales to private sector bidders.
Strong objections from BJP’s labour wing — Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh — to the disinvestment of the two telecom PSUs and realisation that BSNL plays a vital part in connectivity in remote states and large stretches of rural areas, stayed the privatisation of the telecom giants. Officials said that sale of their assets and bonds would be used to revive the two as a merged entity. “However, this does not mean there is any change in the philosophy laid down that the government should not be in the business of running businesses,” said officials.
They said, the government does not want a repeat of the old scenario where a PSU’s shares were sold to another PSU just so as to fulfil disinvestment targets but “rather to go in for strategic sales where domestic and international bidders can be encouraged to participate.” A new secretary to oversee the disinvestment process has been inducted – Tuhin Kanta Pandey in place of Anil Kumar Khachi — to speed up the process of disinvestment, especially strategic disinvestment, said sources.
Air India is likely to be the first big strategic disinvestment to be effected next month itself. A revised offer where 100 per cent stake besides a host of other concessions including write off of a large portion of its debt is likely to make the airline an attractive buy, said officials. Air India’s bilateral rights and airport slots, some of them in use and some in reserve, besides its assets and goodwill are expected to be prime attractions. The government also plans to use a combination of bond issues and write-offs to pare down the state-run airline’s debt from ` 28,000 crore as of last year to `12,500 crore.
According to civil aviation ministry officials, some potential bidders had last year informally expressed concerns over clauses in the bid document that forbade mergers with other existing airlines etc., and these are likely to be scrapped. The two oil public sector undertaking (PSUs) — BPCL and HPCL — which were nationalised in the 1970s and were in their earlier Avtar known as Burmah Shell and Esso India are also likely to be sold off to a strategic buyer within this financial year.