Kolkata: At the outset, it was an effort by the then government to procure some funds 30 summers ago, without troubling the taxpayers to improve several aspects of the economy. They planned it by disinvesting some parts of the Public Sector Undertakings (PSU).
Later, it was a ploy by the Centre to shirk the responsibility of running the PSUs or selling these companies to private entities.
Initially, disinvestment procedure was few and far due to impediments caused by several corners of the society.
Cut to 2014, when the Narendra Modi government came to power, disinvestment again became the “need of the hour”. And the government has started the process of disinvestment with all its might.
Just when the disinvestment process looked smoother, the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the entire world, particularly India. In the changed scenario where survival became the sole aim of mankind, those PSUs — which are designated to be disinvested by the Central government or part of those PSU’s which are facing the Damocles’ sword of disinvestment — came forward to help the government and became the great saviour of the country during the Covid-19 pandemic.
These PSUs came in handy in producing plenty of life-saving oxygen and these units worked overtime to arrange oxygen for ailing Covid patients across the length and breadth of the country.
At a time when the central government is hellbent on privatising the Vishakhapatnam Steel plant, a part of the SAIL fraternity, it has extended great help to the society in the doldrums. It began delivering oxygen from their factories and took additional efforts to increase oxygen production.
These units also took up the cudgel to send oxygen where it is needed the most.
The factories of SAIL that usually produces 500 metric tons of oxygen per day, came forward to produce 1100 metric tons of oxygen per day to cater to the need of different hospitals for the treatment of the patients suffering from Covid-19 infections.
Factories in Rourkela, Bhilai, Durgapur, Bokaro, and Burnpur of Steel Authority of India arranged for the supply of oxygen to 2500 beds of various hospitals.
Another PSU, the Gas Authority of India, opened an oxygen-producing plant in ten places. Oil India Limited, a Government of India enterprise, took the onus on themselves to send liquid oxygen cylinders to several hospitals in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh.
Indian Oil Corporation took effective steps to convert their liquefied natural gas delivery cylinders to suitable containers of oxygen for human usage.
Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, a Navratna Company, ferried oxygen cylinders to the hospitals of Bhopal and Haridwar.
In addition, all Oil PSUs took initiatives to set up 93 medical oxygen generating plants to make useful oxygen for the patients suffering from oxygen shortages in hospitals.
Other PSUs like Cochin Shipyard, HAL, NLC and RCF also played significant roles to help the various Covid hospitals. Even the Indian Railways is running 27 special express trains to deliver oxygen containers to proper places of the country.
In this hour of need, when Covid vaccine inadequacy is plaguing the entire country, PSUs could have played a prominent part here too.
Had the Central Research Institute, Kasauli, Pastor Institute of India, Coonoor, and BCG Vaccines Lab of Chennai been utilised, maybe the Indians would have gotten the vaccine in the proper timeframe.
History says that PSUs are always handy for the government in crisis management. PSUs contributed Rs 148 crore for the construction of the Statue of Unity in Gujarat.
The newly formed “PM CARES Fund” is also heavily loaded with financial contributions from various PSUs.
As per records, during the period of 1990-91 to 2000-21, the then UPA government’s target for disinvestment was Rs 54,300 crore but they achieved to procure only Rs 20078 crore.
The government realised certain adverse effects on the economy of disinvestment and relatively slowed down the approach.
Come the financial year 2017-18, the NDA government procured Rs 1,00,642 crore by way of disinvesting PSUs, when their target was simply Rs 72,500 crore.
It amply demonstrated the government’s inclination to sell the PSUs by hook or by crook. It became even more evident when the government was perusing the IDBI Bank disinvestment at a juncture when millions of Indian lives are in precarious conditions due to the dangerous surge of the Covid-19 second wave.
The Covid pandemic has rudely depicted the human approach of all PSU entities. It’s a shoutout to the people, who are at the helm of affairs, to think against privatising the PSUs, which in a sense, proves an inimical attitude towards the Indian polity as a whole.
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the publication)