Friday, Sep 06, 2002
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By Neena Vyas
Over the last few days, after Mr. Fernandes questioned the wisdom of selling profit-making PSUs in the oil sector, a number of ministerial voices have joined in, apparently for different reasons. Some such as the Petroleum Minister, Ram Naik, and the Civil Aviation Minister, Shahnawaz Hussain, want to protect their own turf and others, it is suspected, may even be "raising their voices at the behest of interested parties in the private sector."
Politically, this new development is also being viewed by some in the Bharatiya Janata Party as an attempt to lower the high profile of the Disinvestment Minister, Arun Shourie, and his staunch supporter, Arun Jaitley. Simultaneously, Mr. Fernandes, it is alleged, wants to raise his own political profile after the battering he received in the Tehelka affair.
Ahead of the scheduled meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment on September 7, those opposed to the idea of virtually "handing over to the private sector" on a platter profit-making companies in the oil sector such as Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum in the refining and the marketing sectors hope to get some moral support from Dr. Joshi. The Minister for Coal and Mines, Uma Bharati, has also spoken strongly against disinvestment.
It is being pointed out that if the Government opts for a strategic sale of the PSUs, a method favoured by Mr. Shourie and Mr. Jaitley, the multinational Shell will most certainly walk away with the prize.
The chorus of voices is growing in favour of offloading shares of these companies in the market, if disinvestment is a must.
It is learnt that some people have raised the vital issue of energy security in connection with the possible sale of oil sector PSUs, and they include Dr. Joshi who is believed to have conveyed his views to the Prime Minister. They point out that the security issue is far more important than Mr. Fernandes' objection that the disinvestment process will replace a public sector monopoly with a private sector monopoly.
And almost as if anticipating the objection, Mr. Shourie, speaking today on the sidelines of a meeting at the Indian Merchants' Chamber in Mumbai, reportedly said that "real oil security'' could be achieved by the Government by going for alternative fuels such as ethanol.
He suggested, without directly saying so, that one could not talk about oil security when the country imported two-thirds of its oil needs, had invited "foreigners'' to undertake oil exploration, and when there was talk of laying an oil pipeline from Iran via Pakistan.
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