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Tuesday, Jan 06, 2004

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SC sees no hurdles to disinvestment in NFL, EIL

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New Delhi , Jan. 5

THE Supreme Court on Monday directed that two new petitions challenging the Government's decision to privatise National Fertilizers Ltd (NFL) and Engineers India Ltd (EIL) also be tagged along with the main petition on Jessop & Co.

The Court, however, observed that there were no hurdles to disinvestment in these two companies since they were not acquired through any acts of Parliament.

The direction from the apex court came during the resumed hearing of a Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by Jessop & Co Ltd Staff Association against a Calcutta High Court judgment upholding the Government's decision to privatise the rail coach manufacturing PSU. The High Court had ruled that the Government could proceed with disinvestment in Jessop & Co as it was in a non-strategic sector.

The Supreme Court also issued notice on Centre's plea for transfer of a petition challenging disinvestment in Hindustan Zinc Ltd pending in the Rajasthan High Court to the apex court.

The notice to the petitioners before the High Court was issued by a Bench comprising the Chief Justice, Mr V.N. Khare, Mr Justice S.B. Sinha, and Mr Justice S.H. Kapadia.

The Court has already issued notices to petitioners challenging the disinvestment in three other PSUs - Shipping Corporation of India, Hindustan Copper Ltd and Burn Standard & Co - on the Centre's plea for transfer of their petitions to the apex court.

The Court has agreed to the Centre's plea to reconsider its September 16, 2003 judgment on HPCL/BPCL, which held that the Government could not privatise PSUs acquired through acts of Parliament with funds from the Consolidated Fund of India without approval from the law makers.

The Attorney General, Mr Soli Sorabjee, had submitted before the Apex Court during a hearing on Jessop & Co case that the ruling on HPCL/BPCL had cast a shadow on the entire disinvestment process.

Though, NFL and EIL were not created through acts of Parliament, their staff associations have contended that there was no distinction between utilisation of funds from the Consolidated Fund to set up a virgin PSU or to nationalise a private entity through Parliamentary enactments as was done in the case of HPCL and BPCL.

Disinvestment of a virgin PSU set up with funds from the Consolidated Fund should also require Parliamentary nod, NFL and EIL staff associations have said while submitting that they should also be heard on the matter.

The Court, however, has not issued any notice to the Government on the petitions filed by the employees of NFL and EIL and have listed the two petitions along with the main petition to be heard in February.

Similar arguments were put forward by the employees of SCI and Hindustan Copper while challenging disinvestment in their respective companies. Interestingly, SCI and Hindustan Copper were "partially" created through acts of Parliament.

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