Shourie takes mickey out of ficci PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 September 2000 00:00
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One thing that we have to remind ourselves of when we come here, is the tremendous power of FICCI,' began Minister of State for Disinvestment Arun Shourie, in what looked like yet another adulatory beginning to yet another boring seminar that the Capital is so full of at most times. But the normally acidic, former editor of this newspaper, was just playing with the FICCI brass, fattening them up for the kill, so to speak, in a day-long seminar on disinvestment organised by FICCI at its New Delhi headquarters.

Shourie then read out a letter by FICCI president G P Goenka to the Prime Minister, where he said that a FICCI aviation committee had said that foreign investors should not be allowed to buy more than 25 per cent stake in Air India, and that more than this was not allowed even in countries like `China, Mexico, UK, Thailand, Taiwan, US, etc'. So far, so good.Shourie then read out letters by senior Parliamentarians, and even the recommendations of the Standing Committee of Parliament -- lo and behold, they were the same as FICCI's, right down to the etcetera.

Great minds that think alike, asked Shourie, or just one great mind that was making everyone think alike? Guess who the head of the FICCI aviation committee was, Shourie asked before a visibly embarrassed FICCI brass. Naresh Goyal, the Jet Airways chief, and a man who has a vested interest in ensuring that foreign airlines don't get full control of Air India. Practice `full disclosure', an amused Shourie grinned at the FICCI brass -- give your recommendations, but state clearly the vested interests behind them.

Oh yes, continued Shourie, please get your facts straight while you're at it. You see, the critical reason why foreign airlines just have to get at least a 26 per cent stake in Air India is a peculiarity in the Indian corporate law -- under the law, you need to have at least a 26 per cent stake to prevent any special resolution by other shareholders, such as one which votes you out. Problem is, Shourie countered, that none of the countries mentioned by the FICCI study, with the exception of the UK, have such a peculiarity in their law -- so the FICCI comparison was way off the mark, and essentially designed to confuse the issue.

Later, FICCI secretary general Amit Mitra tried to defend FICCI's stance, saying their findings were based on an article in the Harvard Business Review, but it cut little ice since it didn't address the issue of how FICCI's `facts' were distorted.

Shourie then used the platform to ask that people, in Parliament and in the media, use figures judiciously. One lot of people say that Air India is worth around Rs 24,000 crore -- but where did this figure come from? From thin air, countered Shourie. One of the airline's unions, for instance, said the Air India building was worth thousands of crore. Bunkum, said Shourie. Since the Express Towers, next to the Air India building has been evaluated at Rs 600 crore, the Air India one cannot be worth more than around double this. (Interestingly, in a later session, CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury told the audience that the Rs 24,000 crore figure was first mentioned in an annual report of the ministry of civil aviation).

Earlier, in his presentation, FICCI chief G P Goenka gave figures of the losses the Central Government PSUs incurred each year. This is a whopping Rs 8,000 crore a year. That means that each citizen pays Rs 80 a year on subsidising these loss-making PSUs.

According to figures given by Shourie, the situation could actually be a lot worse. In the last 9 years, for instance, the government has implemented 23 revival packages at a cost of Rs 34,000 crore. Oh yes, not a single of these schemes really helped. And right now, the government is in the process of implementing 14 revival schemes which are costing the country Rs 12,000 crore. Will they work? Unlikely, was Shourie's response.

Will the government set up another disinvestment commission? The subject of hot debate in Parliament a few weeks ago, Shourie had a great joke on this as well. Apparently, when Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar wanted the government to set up another Disinvestment Commission at the earliest, as the minister in charge, Shourie agreed. Leading magazine India Today described this as saying `Country wants action, Shourie wants commission.'


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