"To privatize is to drive a two-horse cart. The cart is the enterprise in question. One horse is called Political Goals and is flighty and fickle, the other is called Economics, and is slow and steady."
The role of the State vs. Market has been one of the major issues in development economics and policy. In a mixed economy such as
, historically the public sector had been assigned an important role. However, in the year 1991 the national economic policy underwent a radical transformation. The new policy of liberalization, privatization and globalization de-emphasized the role of the public sector in the nation’s economy. The faculty at IIT-Bombay has been studying various aspects of the New Economic Policy such as financial sector reforms, fiscal implications of reforms, and of globalization. India
To date several arguments have been proffered by the apologists of market-oriented economic structures:
§ the government must not enter into those areas where the private sector can perform better
§ market-driven economies are more efficient than the state-planned economies
§ the role of the state should be as a regulator and not as the producer
§ Government resources locked in commercial activities should be released for their deployment in social activities.
It is also contended that the functioning of many public sector units (PSUs) has been characterized by low productivity, unsatisfactory quality of goods, excessive manpower utilization, inadequate human resource development and low rate of return on capital. For instance, between 1980 and 2002, the average rate of return on capital employed by PSUs was about 3.4% as against the average cost of borrowing, which was 8.66%. Disinvestment (or divestment) of the PSUs has therefore been offered as one of the solutions in this context.
Disinvestment involves the sale of equity and bond capital invested by the government in PSUs. It also implies the sale of government’s loan capital in PSUs through securitization. However, it is the government and not the PSUs who receive money from disinvestment.
The fixation of share/bond price is an important aspect of disinvestment. Now, the Disinvestment Commission determines the share/bond price. Disinvested shares are listed, quoted and traded on the stock market. Indian and foreign financial institutions, banks, mutual funds, companies as well as individuals can buy disinvested shares / bonds.......
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.
However, to date the market experience has been otherwise. The large national budgetary deficit on revenue account has been increasing. The government has not used the disinvestment proceeds to finance expenditure on capital account; i.e. the disinvestment policy has resulted in capital consumption rather than generation. Administrative costs of the disinvestment process have also been unduly high.
The actual receipts through disinvestment have often fallen far short of their target (see figure). During the period 1991-92 to 2002-2003, the government had targeted the mobilization of about Rs. 78,300 crores through disinvestment, but it could actually mobilize only Rs. 30,917 crores.
Problems associated with Disinvestment
A number of problems and issues have bedevilled 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.
It is not clear if the rationale for divestment process is well-founded. The assumption of higher efficiency, better / ethical management practices and better monitoring by the private shareholders in the case of the private sector all of which supposedly underlie the disinvestment rationale is not always borne out by business trends and facts.
Total disinvestment of PSUs would naturally concentrate economic and political power in the hands of the private corporate sector. The
economist Kenneth Galbraith had visualized a role of countervailing power for the PSUs. While the creation of PSUs originally had economic, social welfare and political objectives, their current restructuring through disinvestment is being undertaken primarily out of need of government finances and economic efficiency. US
Lastly, to the extent that the sale of government equity in PSUs is to the Indian private sector, there is no decline in national wealth. But the sale of such equity to foreign companies has far more serious implications relating to national wealth, control and power, particularly if the equity is sold below the correct price!
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.