EVOLUTION OF DISINVESTMENT POLICY
It has been decided that Government would disinvest up to 20 per cent of its equity in selected public sector undertakings, in favour of mutual funds and financial or investment institutions in the public sector. The disinvestment, which would broad base the equity, improve management and enhance the availability of resources for these enterprises, is also expected to yield Rs. 2,500 crores to the exchequer in1991-92.
The modalities and details of implementing this decision, which are being worked out, would be announced separately. The policy, as enunciated by the Government, under the Prime Minister Shri Chandrashekhar was to divest up to 20% of the Government equity in selected PSEs in favour of public sector institutional investors. The objective of the policy was stated to be to broad-base equity, improve management, and enhance availability of resources for these PSEs and yield resources for the exchequer.
PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH DISINVESTMENT:
A number of problems and issues have bedeviled the disinvestment process. The number of bidders for equity has been small not only in the case of financially weak PSUs, but also in that of better-performing PSUs. Besides, the government has often compelled financial institutions, UTI and other mutual funds to purchase the equity which was being unloaded through disinvestment. These organizations have not been very enthusiastic in listing and trading of shares purchased by them as it would reduce their control over PSUs. Instances of insider trading of shares by them have also come to light. All this has led to low valuation or under pricing of equity.
Further, in many cases, disinvestment has not really changed the ownership of PSUs, as the government has retained a majority stake in them. There has been some apprehension that disinvestment of PSUs might result in the ‘crowding out’ of private corporates (through lowered subscription to their shares) from the primary capital market.
An important fact that needs to be remembered in the context of divestment is that the equity in PSUs essentially belongs to the people. Thus, several independent commentators have maintained that in the absence of wider national consensus, a mere government decision to disinvest is not enough to carry out the sale of people’s assets. Inadequate information about PSUs has impeded free, competitive and efficient bidding of shares, and a free trading of those shares. Also, since the PSUs do not benefit monetarily from disinvestment, they have been reluctant to prepare and distribute prospectuses. This has in turn prevented the disinvestment process from being completely open and transparent.
If the disinvestment policy is to be in wider public interests, it is necessary to examine systematically, issues such as - the ‘correct’ valuation of shares, the ‘crowding out’ possibility, the appropriate use of disinvestment proceeds and the institutional and other prerequisites.
Disinvestment is generally expected to achieve a greater inflow of private capital and the use of private management practices in PSUs, as well as enable more effective monitoring of management discipline by the private shareholders. Such changes would lead to an increase in the operational efficiency and the market value of the PSUs. This in turn would enable the much needed revenue generation by the government and help reduce deficit financing.