There is disquiet in the Congress over the government’s decision to dip into the National Investment Fund (NIF) corpus to fund social sector schemes, with some leaders equating it with “selling off family silver.”

On Thursday, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) decided that the NIF corpus — comprising deposits from the start of this fiscal to March 2012 — would be available in full for investment as capital expenditure in specific social sector schemes determined by the Planning Commission and the Department of Expenditure. The CCEA also decided that all listed Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) should offload 10 per cent of their holding in the public domain.

Given the contours of the discourse on disinvestment in the country, there is an apprehension within the Congress that the decision on the NIF corpus could draw the party some flak in Parliament and outside. The four Left parties have already demanded a rollback of the decision amid reports that Congress ally, the Trinamool Congress, too was opposed to it.

Asked to respond to the issue at the Congress briefing, spokesman Manish Tiwari’s comment on reports of the Trinamool Congress opposing the move was: “When the Cabinet has taken a considered decision, it is the voice of the government though individual parties are entitled to have their own views.”

As for the decision to have CPSE’s offload 10 per cent stake, Mr. Tiwari said this was a mechanism to allow the public to have a share in the profits of such companies. As for using the NIF corpus, he pointed out that this was specifically to fund social sector schemes.

Also, Congress leaders pointed out that the government had made its intent clear on the issue of offloading holding in CPSEs in the President’s address to the joint session of Parliament itself. Further, this aspect of the two-part disinvestment package announced by the government was in keeping with the Congress manifesto for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

Rejecting the policy of “blind privatisation” followed by the National Democratic Alliance, the Congress had said: “Indian people have every right to own part of the shares of public sector companies while the government retains majority shareholding.”

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