Apart from the overall gloom, DIPAM secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey, who is spearheading the disinvestment programme, having tested Covid-19 positive on Tuesday could also slow the privatisation process.
Covid-19 and the resultant uncertainty over market conditions may delay the disinvestment process and the follow-up moves on the recently announced policy to privatise all central public enterprises (CPSEs) in the non-strategic space and even some in the strategic sector. Apart from the overall gloom, the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey, who is spearheading the disinvestment programme, having tested Covid-19 positive on Tuesday could also slow the privatisation process.
In fact, senior government servants catching Covid-19 infection could impact policy implementations in other sectors as well, as these have resulted in shutting many important offices for sanitization and officers again starting to work from home. Earlier, defence secretary Ajay Kumar and principal director general of Press Information Bureau KS Dhatwalia tested Covid positive.
During recent press conferences, Dhatwalia had shared dais with several Union ministers, including roads and MSME minister Nitin Gadkari, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar and information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar. Besides, some senior bureaucrats, scores of staff in several ministries, including finance, railways and defence, have been infected by the virus.
The CGO Complex building, which houses the DIPAM, recently reported many Covid cases, including from the Ministry of Renewable Energy and Public Enterprises, which is housed in the same building. A junior staff of the DIPAM had also contracted the virus.
The railways ministry has also seen a spurt in Covid cases among its staff at various levels. In the Madras division, about 85 officers and staff, including an additional divisional manager, have been tested positive.
On May 17, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced that the government will notify the list of strategic sectors requiring presence of public sector enterprises in public interest. To minimise administrative costs, the number of enterprises in strategic sectors will be only one to four and the remaining ones will be privatised or merged or brought under holding companies, she had said.
“The work in this regard will gather steam after the secretary returns from two weeks of quarantine,” an official said. Currently, there is no clear definition of the strategic sector. Air India, which used to be a strategic CPSE earlier, is now being offered to the private sector.
The DIPAM was closed for two days for sanitisation of offices. While the pace of preparation for new policy on disinvestment will accelerate towards the last week of June, stake sales in CPSEs may continue to be on a wait-and-watch mode due to the market volatility and a drastic fall in share prices of many CPSEs.
Disinvestment of government stakes in companies has become a major source of non-tax revenue in recent years, with collections of Rs 1 lakh crore in FY18, Rs 85,000 crore in FY19 and Rs 50,300 crore in FY20.
With market conditions not conducive, the Centre might nearly halve the disinvestment revenue target of Rs 2.1 lakh crore for FY21. Among the strategic deals, the Centre is banking on sale of its entire 53.3% stake in oil retailer-cum-marketer BPCL to raise Rs 70,000-80,000 crore. The DIPAM has recently extended the deadline for expression of interest for the stake from potential buyers till July 31.