Opposition grows to sale of HPCL and BPCL

Vol 6, PW 24 (12 Feb 03) People & Policy

WE ARE STILL early days into the disinvestment of Hindustan and Bharat Petroleum but expect fireworks as D-Day draws closer.

On one side is disinvestment minister Arun Shourie. On 26th January Shourie - backed by prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee - clearly spelt out the government's determination to sell both state-owned refiners.

On the other is an emerging coalition of assorted public sector unions and political interest groups. Among them the Swadeshi Jagran Manch - an ally of Vajpayee and Shourie's ruling BJP party.

Fiercely protectionist, the SJM this month invited Vajpayee to inaugurate a week-long 'self reliance fair' at a Mumbai public ground. Privatisation is anathema to the SJM, which advocates scrapping the disinvestment ministry.

Within this group are some powerful ideologues from the BJP. Then off course there is oil minister Ram Naik, who remains resolutely opposed to any sell off.

As if this isn't enough, oil unions this month threatened an indefinite nationwide strike from the day the government declares a sale timetable. On 5th February the Oil Sector Officers Association stepped up the rhetoric with a threat to prevent private bidders from carrying out physical inspection of HPCL facilities, essential for due diligence.

OSOA convener Ashok Singh draws parallels with the resistance that forced Delhi to postpone privatisation of state-owned National Aluminium Company. Singh adds that his actions have the support of unions in state-owned insurance, telecom companies and the railways.

Singh has even met Naik (see below) asking him to, "strongly take-up at the Union Cabinet level to reverse the Cabinet decision for proposed privatisation of HPCL and BPCL."