By all reckoning, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is one of India’s tallest leaders who remains relatively unsung if statues, memorials, etc are a measure of commemoration. It is to remedy this, presumably, that the central government has decided to build a statue befitting Patel’s stature in Sadhu Bet island, Gujarat. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to celebrate tall leaders, what is inexcusable is asking PSUs to contribute to this, almost as a matter of course. According to a report in The Indian Express, various oil PSUs have been directed to contribute Rs 200 crore for this from their CSR budgets—how this is CSR is another question that begs an answer. While there is no written order from the government, an ONGC board agenda note, approved by the CMD of the state-owned oil exploration major, reads, “Other oil sector PSU, particularly IOC, has already been directed to contribute in tune of Rs 50 crore for this project… By taking into consideration the total cost of the project, we may consider the proposal for grant of Rs 50 crore”. In addition to the oil PSUs, 14 state-run Gujarat corporations have given around Rs 105 crore as financial support to the project. On the whole, this isn’t very different from the innumerable times that earlier dispensations got ministries and government departments to buy premium space and ad-spots in newspapers and TV channels to feature tributes to their departed leaders. This time around, 45 PSUs were asked to organise “sabka saath, sabka vikas sammelans” to mark the completion of the government’s third year in power—the PSUs are expected to showcase its good governance.
Granted, successive governments have treated PSUs as hand-maidens, but for how long will taxpayers/investors money be commandeered to serve the political ends of one party in power or the other? If a party in power must celebrate its leaders or showcase its achievements, let it do it through its own funds.