Sell loss-making state-owned companies quickly: Sharad Pawar

August 12th, 2008 - 12:14 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar wants speedy disinvestment in public sector units (PSUs) such as the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) or even their closure if they are loss-making units. In his newly published book “Fast Forward”, a collection of his speeches and interviews, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief says that a PSU that is not able to get returns on investments should either be closed or handed over to private organisations.

“Year after year they have not able to provide the expected returns and have not even been able to set off losses, leave aside earn revenue. This has to stop as soon as possible,” Pawar has been quoted as saying in an interview published in the book.

Pawar’s NCP is an important member of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance, and he is the powerful head of the Board of Control for Cricket in India apart from being agriculture minister in the central government.

“Be it SAIL or any other public sector enterprises, investments of very high order have been made in them,” he points out in the book.

SAIL is India’s leading steel manufacturer in the public sector and enjoys the status of a ‘Navratna’ (jewel) that gives it enhanced autonomy and power to take independent decisions.

The Indian government initiated the Navratna scheme in 1997 to identify and support select central public sector enterprises like SAIL, so that they could emerge as significant players in the country’s development.

“Does it make any sense economically to increase capital outlay or investments in areas where even the minimum returns on investment were not realised or where even the repayment instalments could not be paid?” Pawar asked.

“Such ventures need to be closed down. Sooner it is done, the better it will be. Or they should be handed over to organisations that would be able to fetch decent returns thereon.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has written the foreword to “Fast Forward”, released the book Aug 7 in the presence of the ruling coalition’s Who’s Who at his official Race Course Road residence here.

Pawar’s criticism of under-performing public sector units has figured in a detailed interview the book carries, where he also vents his anger over the power situation in the country and in particular in his state, Maharashtra.

“The nation today faces a supply crunch of 80,000 megawatts. The entire state of Maharashtra faces the prospect of being without electricity for hours daily,” he says.

As erratic power supply leads to the workers sitting idle, Pawar puts forward a rhetorical question: “Why have we reached this state of affairs?”

And then he provides the answer himself: “It is largely because we have put in our scarce productive resources into unproductive, loss making and unviable enterprises.

“If we divert resources out of such enterprises, we could hope to meet our power requirements.”

What is the way out? Pawar makes his position clear.

“Privatisation has become the new buzzword. Markets, marketing, and competition have become the words of common use. Their role and importance have come into the limelight.”

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