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Disinvestment Ministry officials waiting for the inevitable

Our Bureau

New Delhi , May 24

DISINVESTMENT Ministry officials are "hanging in the air" as the newly sworn-in Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Governmenthas not named any minister to head the Ministry, which has now become an outcaste of sorts in the new political milieu.

Quite used to a scorching pace set by Mr Arun Shourie as Disinvestment Minister in the erstwhile NDA regime, the Ministry officials are twiddling their thumbs, confused on the direction of the disinvestment policy and, perhaps, resigning themselves to the fact that the Ministry may soon become non-existent.

The signals are amply clear. Not only has the UPA Government shied away from appointing a minister to oversee the disinvestment process of many PSUs, initiated by the previous Government, it has also not mentioned in the allocation of business rules as to who would look after the Ministry. There is still no word from the Government as to whether disinvestment of PSUs would be brought under the Finance Ministry, as widely speculated.

"We are neither in the sky nor on the earth. We are left hanging in the air," a Ministry official remarked, hoping that some clarity on the allocation of business rules regarding disinvestment would soon emerge.

Until this clarity comes about, if the allocation of business rules is silent about a department or ministry, it is inferred to be directly under the control of the prime minister.

With the draft Common Minimum Programme listing the names of PSUs such as ONGC, Gail, HPCL, BPCL, NTPC, SAIL and BHEL that will not be privatised on strategic considerations, and with the Left Parties exerting pressure against privatising Navaratna as well as profit-making companies, the Ministry officials reckon that the files of all those disinvestment cases in which profit-making companies are involved would have to be "closed."

"The policy on disinvestment is the prerogative of the government. The Ministry is only to implement the policy," the official said.

The NDA Government had given a separate status to disinvestment during its tenure by creating a Department of Disinvestment through a notification dated December 10, 1999, which was later re-named Ministry of Disinvestment, vide another notification dated September 6, 2001.

The PSUs that are in various stages of disinvestment include NFL, MFL, RCF, FACT, HOCL, HCL, Manganese Ore, SCI, EIL, STC, Hindustan Paper Corp, Nalco, NBCC, Sponge Iron and CIWTC. While the NDA's attempt to privatise the oil marketing companies, HPCL and BPCL, was thwarted by the Supreme Court for want of parliamentary approval, this had opened the floodgates for several other PSUs on similar grounds, bringing the strategic sale process of several PSUs, including SCI, Engineers India and Hindustan Copper, to a halt.

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