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After reading your cover story Acrepolis: A Plot Hijacked (Mar 28), the only thing I was left wondering about is how all this has become public now, despite Shourie’s powerful media connections. Most of the divestments were bulldozed through by him, any minister daring to resist him was pilloried in front-page articles. Thus were land-rich psus forced to be divested, after ‘due diligence’ by some mnc agency, fixing very low valuations. Once the purchase came through, the assets were stripped, the company resold, or left for a shell. In the name of divestment, many mining companies were run down, sold cheap, before they suddenly started reaping profits for new buyers!
P.S. Singh, Jaipur
Outlook has been unfair in targeting the Tatas for what they see as delaying tactics. In their letter, they have clearly raised the logical issues that could arise out of the demerger. For instance, why should the Tatas pay tax on the capital gains arising out of the sale of land they don’t own? If they are bringing it to the notice of the disinvestment ministry, what’s wrong with it? Secondly, you accuse them of offering to pay for the land at book rates. They have clearly said in their letter to the ministry that they are ready to pay 45 per cent of the value of the land at the prevalent market rates. Fudging facts to make up a story is highly undesirable. Seems like your team has spent four weeks on a wild goose chase without much to show for it. But to be fair to Outlook, it deserves credit for printing an interview with Shourie alongside. A paid news agency wouldn’t have had the guts to publish an interview shredding their own story to bits.
Rohit Agarwal, Bangalore
If, supposedly, Shourie’s actions benefited the Tatas, did the former receive any kickbacks? If not, shouldn’t that be considered as something done in good faith but bad judgement? I know I am speaking the same language that Sibal did while defending Raja; but this seeming “loss” seems more an attempt at tying down Shourie in preparing his own defence. I certainly would not be surprised if some mud is thrown at Subramanian Swamy now.
Siva Ravindran, Mumbai
Outlook imputes malafide intent/corruption in the shareholders’ agreement between the GoI and Tatas. There is none. Outlook picks up a few events that have taken place in the last nine years, twists a few facts, generates untruths and produces rubbish.
Kapil Sibal is merely trying to cover up the scams perpetrated by his predecessor A. Raja right under the nose of the prime minister who, though personally honest, is dishonest about his hidden agenda of clinging to power, come what may! Sibal is indeed what they say about lawyers: that they are qualified liars!
A.K. Saxena, Delhi
You’ve certainly achieved your objective, prodding the indefatigable Sibal to order an inquiry. Keep up the pressure.
Dr V. Mahadevan, Chennai
I don’t think anybody sane believes Shourie is in the league of an A. Raja or a Suresh Kalmadi. It’s a typical Congress job of trying to confuse and confound.
If VSNL under the Tatas did get ownership and control of the 773 acres of land, then there is a whiff of a scam. But if the land asset was at least technically carved out of vsnl before the Tatas acquired it, and they got no interest in it, as stated by Shourie, then there is no scam. It seems Ratan Tata did make a flimsy case of acquiring the land at steeply discounted prices by citing adr shareholders.
Samir Rai, London
We used to vilify the Ambanis for getting government policies manipulated in their favour. The Tatas, on the other hand, earned our sympathies with the impression that they were conducting business the ‘clean’ way in this dirty world. Hats off to Ratan ‘bhai’ for being the consummate backroom operator and media manipulator! Mukeshbhai seems to be nothing in comparison.
Ananth Reddy, Chennai
Of late, the House of Tatas is figuring in the media for all the wrong reasons. In jrd’s time, it was the only group known for its probity, philanthropy and concern for public good. Now corporate greed seems to colour all its activities!
Kurien Thomas, Bangalore
Hopefully, with advances in biotechnology and genetic engineering, scientists might be able to locate the genetic mutation that causes corruption in Indians and come up with some clever strategies to substitute that gene. This is possibly India’s only hope.
Harikumar, Coventry, UK
At least Outlook has published Mr Shourie’s response verbatim. They could very well have chosen not to publish it. It redeems them somewhat.
P.B. Joshipura, Suffolk, US
Outlook is being given credit for at least having posted Arun Shourie’s rebuttal. But anyone who reads through this whole story would be struck by how dumb the whole thing is. Journalism has to go well beyond stringing together a few sentences in English. And here is my own take on why the rebuttal was published. With basic intelligence being in short supply in these quarters, even as they read the rebuttal, they had no idea that their case had been torn to shreds. Ignorance was indeed bliss, that is, until the issue hit the stands.
Whatever else you do, you cannot accuse Shourie of dishonesty or corruption or lack of transparency. The Tatas’ failure to honour a contract cannot be Shourie’s problem after he has left the ministry, it is the responsibility of subsequent incumbents to enforce the contracts. For a country not used to nor having expertise in divestiture, it is a huge challenge to take up the ministry of disinvestment. Shourie should be credited with taking up the challenge and doing a great job. There are too many moving, complex parts in divestitures and it works only with a strong regulatory environment.
Ken, St Louis, US
You missed an important question for Arun Shourie—what was the need to disinvest vsnl, as the psu had monopoly in isd calls and other international telecommunications. Generally, the government disinvests loss-making psus; vsnl was a case of a monopoly with surplus cash reserves. Besides, mtnl and bsnl are still not allowed in the international telecommunications business. Earlier also, Outlook had exposed the sale of Centaur Hotel in Mumbai to the Sahara group. That too was mired in controversy, and Arun Shourie was the man responsible. The sale of bses in Mumbai to the Reliance group also needs to be looked into, as suburban consumers have to pay more for electricity to Reliance Energy. Our disinvestment policy needs to be looked at afresh, and the government should retain the option of taking back a psu from a private player, if it is not serving public interest.
Deendayal M. Lulla, Mumbai
Reliance (private sector) energy costs more than mseb and best (public sector) energy in Mumbai. So much so that the general public had to resort to agitation against Reliance's high cost of tariff.
Michael Lopes, Mumbai
Your correspondent got the value of cash reserve of vsnl wrong and had to be corrected by Shourie. He does not know the nuances to ild and again had to be corrected by Shourie. I think he tried to hang his sorry hat on the fact that a certain amount of land did not undergo demerger prior to disinvestment, lest his four-week-long wild goose chase ended in producing massive zilch. Now consider this. When the vsnl disinvestment was taking place, it was listed not only on bse but also on nyse, thus requiring a Securities and Exchange Commission approval. It is incredible to think that the Tatas and Shourie were able to get sec approval with the kind of skulduggery being alleged. The mediocrity of Indian journalists, especially on financial matters, is on display here. Outlook did not do its research before taking on someone of the calibre of Shourie and now has egg all over its face.
Ankan Kumar, Columbus
Well, there is one catch here. When Shourie says that the market value before acquisition—which included the value of land—was lower than that received from Tata, he conveniently forgets that an asset is valued as per the ability of its owner to use it. A pistol with a policeman and with a child has different connotations. With the government being the owner, a retail investor could not see any chance of the unlocking of the land value or its economic use and so did not factor it in the future earnings of its stock, leading to an artificial decrease in stock price. Take for example Maruti, the price of whose stock increased with the successive reduction in government shareholding.