Ever since the Central government started disinvesting stake in Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) from 2003, AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalithaa has been consistently opposing it. Persistence paid, as she has now thwarted another attempt to offload shares to private parties, by offering to buy NLC stake worth Rs 500 crore.
In her statement on Monday after market regulator SEBI gave the green light for selling NLC shares to five Tamil Nadu PSUs, the Chief Minister recalled that the Centre was forced to drop its earlier move to sell the Navaratna company’s shares in 2003 after she wrote a protest letter to the then prime minister. A fresh disinvestment attempt in 2006 was also thwarted after the AIADMK staged a massive agitation.
As a result, in 2010, the Central government brought in an amendment to the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Rules, 1957. According to the amendment, 25 per cent of the shares of private companies and 10 per cent of the public sector undertakings should be with the public.
Jayalalithaa said private companies alone could effect a change of price in the share market and not PSUs. As such, the SEBI’s regulatory norm of 10 per cent public holding in PSUs was wrong, she asserted.
Opposing the move to disinvest 5 per cent shares of NLC, Jayalalithaa proposed two alternatives: delist NLC by buying back the 6.44 per cent currently in public hands through the buyback mechanism available under SEBI regulations; or amend the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Rules, 1957 to make a special exemption for NLC by introducing a necessary proviso under Rule 19(2)(c).
In response to her May 23 letter, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on June 8 that by disinvesting just 5 per cent shares, the NLC would not become a private company.
After the Cabinet Committee cleared the disinvestment of NLC, Jayalalithaa again wrote to the PM on June 22 asking him to reconsider the decision.
Since the Central government continued to ignore her views and the people of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa offered to buy the 5 per cent shares of the NLC through State PSUs.
Later, she reiterated her demand through another letter on July 7. Finally, the Centre saw merit in her proposal. As they say, the rest is history.
Meanwhile in Puducherry, workers of the Neyvlei Lignite Corporation called off their indefinite strike and fast-unto-death agitation following an appeal by Jayalalithaa.
The Joint Action Council of workers unions decided to call off the agitations following measures taken by the Tamil Nadu government to acquire the NLC shares.
M Sekar, Neyveli district secretary of AITUC, told Express that the decision was taken after Chief Minster Jayalalithaa’s statement was aired by major electronic media. A facsimile of the statement was also received, he said. Employees started to attend to their duties from 7 pm on Monday, Sekar told Express over phone.