A day after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced plans to divest a portion of the government’s holding in the Life Insurance Company (LIC), senior Congress leader Manish Tewari on Sunday said the party would oppose the move.
Mr. Tewari, a member of the Congress strategy group for Parliament, also asked the government to spell out its policy towards public sector undertakings (PSUs).
“The Congress would strongly oppose the disinvestment plan through the Initial Public Offer (IPO) route. It is tantamount to selling family jewels in order to fund the budget deficit,” Mr. Tewari told The Hindu .
The Congress leader said the move also raises ‘legitimate suspicion’ about the financial health of the public sector insurance giant as the cash rich LIC has been used to ‘finance’ bail out packages of ailing companies and pick up stakes in loss-making undertakings.
Spell out policy
“The Congress would want the government to spell out its public sector policy before it decides to hand over Air India to a favoured oligarch or demolish the likes of Coal India and LIC. We want to know what is their policy towards public sector,” he asked.
When it was pointed out that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had also unsuccessfully put the national airline on the block through the strategic partner sale route, Mr. Tewari responded that the incumbent government has not even put a value to the airline.
“If you read the expression of interest (EOI) document of Air India, it doesn't even have a valuation figure while Air India, with all its assets, is a ₹5 lakh crore company,” he said.
While the Congress’s position on Air India's disinvestment seems to be divided, with a section of leaders including former Finance Minister P. Chidamabaram favouring a sell-off than burdening the tax payers with regular bail-out packages, there is convergence with regard to LIC that could see the government off loading 10% of its stake in the public sector insurance giant.
“As far as LIC is concerned, it is highly debatable. To assume that every public sector must go through a process of disinvestment, partial or whole, is wrong....It has gained in competition with very strong private sector players,” Mr. Chidamabaram had said at the press conference on Saturday.
“We will internally debate it within the party and we will give our view on the floor of the Parliament, but, I think, it is highly debatable proposition,” he added.
The Congress and its ally, the DMK, are also opposing the disinvestment of PSU oil company, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) and Container Corporation of India, with former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi attending a protest of BPCL employees at the Kochi refinery last December.