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Disinvestment Minister, Mr Arun Shourie: Talking tough

NEW DELHI, Oct. 19

FISSURES and frustrations are clearly showing within the ruling NDA over the public sector disinvestment programme.

Amidst criticism on various fronts of the sell-off process, the man at the helm, the Disinvestment Minister, Mr Arun Shourie, today said that the dissension has brought the entire programme to a virtual standstill.

He said given the current state of affairs, the Rs 12,000-crore disinvestment target might not be achievable.

Mr Shourie also accused the Shiv Sena, an NDA ally, of ``double-speak'' on its criticism of the sale of Airport Centaur, Mumbai.

He alleged that on another similar occasion, the Shiv Sena had itself lobbied with him during the privatisation of another Government hotel in Mumbai.

"Nothing can be done at all if at every step objections are raised and motives questioned. As far as I am concerned, there are no targets and nothing can be met if things continue this way,'' Mr Shourie told reporters at a function here today, when queried about the controversies over the sale of BPCL, HPCL and NALCO.

People were trying to gain political mileage by criticising the disinvestment process.

``Around one-and-a-half months of the three-month review period sought for the strategic sale in oil majors BPCL and HPCL have passed. However, no one has come forward with any suggestions or queries to my ministry on the issue and all I can say is that the issue is in the hands of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister,'' he said.

Unnecessary roadblocks were being created in the process.

``We should not forget that the disinvestment programme is a test for the Government as well as for the country to stand up to its policies and announcements.

The entire world is following the process and needless opposition to it will hurt the country's image and the flow of foreign investments,'' he said.

In this connection, he pointed out that the Chhattisgarh Government, which at one time has come out against the sale of Balco to Sterlite Industries, was today hailing the company as an engine for the State's growth.

On Nalco, Mr Shourie felt that if the process were delayed further the profit-making company would become loss-making one like Steel Authority of India Ltd.

``SAIL, which was making huge profits at one time, had to be bailed out by a Rs 10,000-crore grant by the Central Government so that it doesn't go into the red,'' he pointed out.

On the Coal and Mines Minister, Ms Uma Bharti's reported statement that anyone who trivialises her struggle over Nalco disinvestment would bite the dust, he said the Prime Minister, Mr A.B. Vajpayee, had yesterday clarified the Government's position on the issue to the Orissa Chief Minister, Mr Naveen Patnaik. He wondered whether the Prime Minister would also "bite the dust''.

Outright sale without lock-in period

On the Shiv Sena accusation that Airport Centaur has been undersold since the buyer, Batra Hospitality, had resold the property with a hefty profit within months of the sale, Mr Shourie said that the party itself had sought favours in the case of sale of Juhu Centaur Hotel, Mumbai, to Mr Ajit Kerkar, who was then unable to pay for the purchase.

``Ask the Shiv Sena who rang me up four times to say that the hotel should be sold,'' Mr Shourie said.

After acquiring the Centaur Airport Hotel, Mumbai, for Rs 83 crore from the Government last year, Batra Hospitalities recently sold the property to Sahara group reportedly for around Rs 115 crore, thereby raising doubts over the valuation process adopted by the Government.

Mr Shourie clarified that since it was an outright sale there was no lock-in period prescribed in the transaction document that could bar transfer of property for a stipulated period. Asked whether the deal violated any specific provision of the share-purchase agreement, he said he would have to study the agreements.

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