Monday, September 2, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



A critical stage in the disinvestment process

In any competitive game, if things are not going as desired, then a time out is called. In the same way, we need a time out in the disinvestment process. Union Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie is an excellent result-oriented and a very honest minister. You give him targets, even the impossible ones and he will exceed expectations. We are in the critical stages of disinvestment of public sector undertakings (PSUs). The battlefield has shifted to PSUs under the Petroleum Ministry. Many business houses are eager to grab them.

As we know, most of them, especially under the Petroleum Ministry, are making huge profits because of the monopolistic conditions and inflated price structures. Union Petroleum Minister Ram Naik, who is stoutly refusing to budge on the disinvestment of PSUs, is in trouble following the petrol pump allotment scam. As the BJP's base is the middle class and SCs and STs, it will be worth the fight.

Some business houses, who want to grab the petroleum-related PSUs, have piled up huge non-performing assets (NPAs) in banks and defaulted heavily on taxes. Some have even stashed their money in foreign banks. Fundamentally, flawed personalities, even with an MBA from the best business schools in the USA, cannot build or manage long-term businesses. If anyone needs structural changes, it is some of the business houses run by CII and FICCI members.


If anyone thinks that these people can manage businesses better after the takeover of PSUs, he or she does not know what management is. Keeping away all the defaulters from participating in the disinvestment process and from the corridors of power. Meanwhile, bank unions should come up with quarterly statements on the NPAs. Here their jobs and our money are at stake.

Mr Arun Shourie should be given the additional responsibility of recovering NPAs or bring the Asset Reconstruction Corporation (ARC) directly under him. He will again mop up the badly needed resources for the Centre. Mind you, money from the selling of PSUs is a pocket change compared to the potential to recover money from NPAs. We should focus on this.

Only those PSUs which are marginally profitable or losing in other sectors should be opened up for disinvestment. The money earned should be spent on VRS to sick PSU employees and infrastructure development. Let us stop the doles to a few unscrupulous and shady business people, who are bringing a bad name to the whole business community.

K.R.KUMAR, Udupi (Karnataka)


Gender bias, Punjab style

The Indian Constitution treats both the sexes at par and makes no distinction between men and women. It stands for equality of sexes and does not discriminate women. Accordingly, the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Civil Procedure Code, the Evidence Act, the Companies Act, the Income-Tax Act, the Panchayati Raj Act, the Cooperative Societies Act etc. make no discrimination against women.

Surprisingly, however, Punjab's Food and Civil Supplies Department seems to be sick of the gender bias. This is clear from the instructions on the issuance of ration cards vide No. 6 of their Memo No. 1/126/96 2/3041 dated June 9, 1998, which has been circulated to all Food and Civil Supply offices in Punjab. According to these instructions, a woman cannot be considered as the head of her family.

The Food and Civil Supplies Department should amend or delete item No. 6 of their said circular letter and should recognise a woman as the head of the family when she is the applicant for the issuance of a ration card for her family (form D-1). The gender bias must go as it is inhuman and unconstitutional.



Decline in research

The editorial Decline in research (August 24) rightly shows your concern regarding decline in scientific research in the country. Nowadays, research is seldom the first priority of the talented. The very environment for research is missing in our campuses these days. Limited but precious time and resources are wasted on promoting research on subjects that have little relevance to society. Apparently, one’s engagement with research work today is more of compulsion than conviction.

It is time to examine why the best talent produced in our universities is going waste. It is all because of wrong planning and confusion in the minds of the students that we have reached such a point. A congenial environment has to be created in the various laboratories if we intend to give primacy to research.

In the era of globalisation, research activities should attain greater heights, but the stipend offered to pursue research is too meagre. It is just Rs 5,000 for junior research fellows and Rs 5,600 for senior research fellows selected in the National Eligibility Test (NET), conducted by the UGC-CSIR. These fellowships are given to meritorious students, most of them being First Class science post-graduates. Steps should be taken to increase the fellowship amount and make research more attractive. We should prevent brain drain and boost research in the country.

The government should ask big industrial houses engaged in medicine, pharmacy, scientific and biotechnology fields to sponsor research by selecting students from various universities in the state. It would also help raise the standards of research in the various fields.

If there is political will and support of big industrial houses, then nothing is impossible. We should create a workable environment and motivate students to do relevant research.

SUNIL KAPUR, Chandigarh

Stop free power

The Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB), the Punjab Government and the State Regulatory Commission deserves appreciation for having decided to stop free power supply to the agricultural sector in the State. The PSEB is losing Rs 600 crore every year due to free power to the farm sector. This decision, if implemented in letter and spirit, would help pull the PSEB out of trouble.

It was wrong on the part of Mr Parkash Singh Badal, former Chief Minister of Punjab, to go in for this largesse which has ruined the PSEB. Mr G.S. Sohal, the former Chairman of PSEB, was asked to go back as he was a bitter opponent of Mr Badal's gimmick of providing free power to farmers. Mrs Rajinder Kaur Bhattal was justified when she announced free power supply to only those who possess five acres of land. Free power supply to big landlords like Badals, Dhindsas, Dhillons is unfair and unjust.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and the PSEB authorities should not yield to the pressure tactics of Mr Badal in this regard. The PSEB has a strength of nearly one lakh employees and if free power supply is not withdrawn at once, their jobs would be in danger as their organisation cannot guarantee job security and take care of them, given its precarious financial position.

I would urge the authorities to punish those officers and employees who are hand-in-glove with those indulging in power theft and leakage of revenue. No industry or domestic consumer can steal power without nexus with the PSEB officials and employees. The PSEB should also be judicious in its approach towards purchases. If theft of energy and inflated purchases can be checked, then the PSEB will come out of red.

Dr NARESH RAJ, Patiala

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