Interview
"We Will Fight Disinvestment"
EVEN as United Front stalwarts exult about their Common Minimum Programme (CMP), all members do not seem to be united in the ruling coalition. There have even been unconfirmed reports that the disunity on economic policy reached a head on June 4, when the Left Front members walked out of the final Steering Committee meeting over certain proposals that were being included in the CMP. On the morning of June 12, while parliamentarians braced for the second day's debate on the confidence motion for the Deve Gowda Government, Arindam Mukherjee met Communist Party of India (CPI) General Secretary A.B. Bardhan on the contentious issues in the CMP. Bardhan does not mince words. Yes, there is serious dissent, and the CPI does not intend to compromise its principles in favour of the CMP. Excerpts from a hard-hitting interview:
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On disinvestment:The left parties  have opposed any move towards disinvestment of public sector undertakings (PSUs) and will continue to do so despite the CMP prominently talking about the issue and planning to carry it on. We feel that disinvestment is a motivated move towards privatisation. In the past we have seen that whatever money comes out of disinvestment of PSUs, it has been utilised to reduce the budget deficit rather than being put to some productive use.

 
 
"There is nothing in the CMP which tells us how all the promises will be fulfilled"
 
 
It must also be remembered that disinvestment has taken place only in profitable PSUs which really did not need any disinvestment. This entire issue needs rethinking before any decision is taken.

On the CMP stand on a Disinvestment Com- mission: Although the CMPtalks of a revival of PSUs and the so-called Disinvestment Commission is expected to look into the fate of the non-profitable and non-viable PSUs, we think that this is a loophole left open. There is no assurance in the CMP or by the Front that this Disinvestment Commission will not be used as a weapon for privatisa-tion. It not only talks of transparency, but also talks about case-to-case consideration. The trade unions' views need to be given ample weight. Till such a thing is done, we cannot support such ideas.

On reforms in the financial sector and opening up of the insurance sector: There have  been some points of conflict and there were a lot of differences in opinion at the final meeting of the UF Steering Committee on June 4 when the final CMP draft was being prepared. The Left parties totally rejected the plans of financial sector reforms as finally spelt out in the CMP, especially the proposals for the insurance sector. The CMP talks about opening up of the insurance sector and allowing foreign and domestic private companies to operate in this field. We had rejected this proposal and pointed out that the trade unions would agitate if this was done. However, it was included in the final CMP and now we will continue to oppose it as it has been included irrespective of our views.

Although the CMP talks about strengthening the Life Insurance Corporation and the General Insurance Corporation, the proposals to hive off LIC and GIC subsidiaries into separate companies and bringing in private investment into these companies to give them autonomy are not acceptable to us. While the argument of the others in the Front is that autonomy can be brought about by equity expansion or by bringing in foreign equity, we feel that autonomy can be ensured if professionals are inducted into the boards of LIC and GIC rather than indiscriminately opening them for a free-for-all. What is required is a restructuring of the boards of directors to give them autonomy and enable them to face competition rather than changing the set-up altogether. Not only this, these boards should be made to function as a supreme body responsible for decisions rather than making a bureaucrat in charge of all decisions in such bodies. Breaking of LIC and GIC into a number of units in the name of competition or even expanding its equity base with the help of private power cannot be acceptable to us. We will oppose this with all our might.

On entry of foreign and private players in insurance: It isn't required. We can reform our house without any foreign influence. So why should we even think of allowing foreign parties in India's insurance market? It should not be done and we will resist this even when the UF's CMP is using the opening up of the insurance sector as one of its main promises in financial reforms.

On implementation of the CMP: This is an area of darkness. There is nothing in the CMP which tells us how all the promises would be fulfilled. There is absolutely no clue about the implementation of the measures so boldly outlined in the common minimum programme. The CMP has not shown what steps would be taken to make it a reality and where the funds to do this will come from. It has not been clearly spelt out whether there would be the necessary budgetary support for such measures or whether there would be some other mode of funding these proposals.

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