Monday, September 2, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Back in saddle, George hits out
Seeks review of govt functioning
Tribune News Service

Defence Minister George Fernandes and Minister of State for External Affairs Digvijay Singh
Defence Minister George Fernandes and Minister of State for External Affairs Digvijay Singh at the Samata Party National Executive meeting in New Delhi on Sunday. — PTI photo

New Delhi, September 1
Defence Minister George Fernandes, after assuming charge of the dissidence-ridden Samata Party, today sought to clarify the disinvestment controversy related to PSUs like HPCL and BPCL, hitting out at his critics, accusing them of spreading lies. He said he had sought a meeting with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and convening a “small group” of ministers to “reconcile” differences over the sell-off process.

Opposing the creation of “private monopolies” to challenge public sector monopolies, Mr Fernandes told mediapersons that neither his party, nor any individual, had attacked the disinvestment process of the government.

Mr Fernandes called for a review of the government functioning and the disinvestment policy.

“It is high time that a mid-term appraisal of its achievements is done and corrective measures taken,” he suggested, addressing a press conference after assuming the presidentship of the Samata Party.

“We have some suggestions to make. We have sought a meeting to be convened by the Prime Minister. Having a different viewpoint does not mean attack. You seek a dialogue and try to reconcile the views,” he stressed.

Rubbishing various media reports that appeared here last week while he was abroad, the Defence Minister said, “I have not, either in my letter or verbally, asked to be invited to a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment. Whosoever has floated this story, has floated a lie”.

“I have not mentioned the CCD, what to speak of my being invited to the meeting. Nor have I threatened to resign if the Prime Minister declines to yield to my demands. I have not made any demands,” he added.

Mr Fernandes also dismissed reports that he had written to the Prime Minister that the disinvestment process impinged on national security and defence. He added, “Whoever has said it, for whatever purpose, it is a lie. That is also highly motivated.”

The Samata Party chief said he had asked the Prime Minister to convene a meeting of a small group of ministers so that some issues relating to disinvestment could be raised and discussed.

Maintaining that the discussion should cover the way, the objective and the kind of the disinvestment process, he said the report of the Disinvestment Commission, headed by Mr G.V. Ramakrishna, had spelt out how it should be done, like how assets created out of tax payers’ money should not be handed over to private monopolies.

“Let us assume, a PSU becomes a monopoly. But on the plea that this PSU is a monopoly, you cannot create a private sector monopoly,” he said. He said these were some of the issues that should be discussed. Citing the example of the UK, the mother of disinvestment, Mr Fernandes said the country was now rethinking on its disinvestment process.

It had now realised the limitations of sell-off in the power sector. The company which took over its Railways became insolvent and the British Government was thinking of re-nationalisation of the public utility, he said.

Earlier, the name of Mr Fernandes was proposed by outgoing president Mr Rao and seconded by Railway Minister Nitish Kumar, party general secretary Shambhu Shrivastava said.

Seventytwo-year-old Fernandes, founder president of the Samata Party, had been forced reluctantly to come back to the organisation at a time when dissidence within the party was raising its head both at the Centre as well as in Bihar and Jharkhand.

Mr Fernandes had stepped down following an Election Commission directive in 2000 and the party had elected Ms Jaya Jaitly, a confidante of the founder president, to lead the Samata Party. She had to step down in the wake of the Tehelka tape controversy in 2001.

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