One of the good things about having PSUs is that, like it or not, they do what the government directs them to—in any case, in all corporates, the majority shareholders drive the agenda. So, when the fiscal deficit is under stress, the government just directs the oil PSUs to pay for a larger share of the oil subsidies and, voila, the deficit begins to look better. If it doesn’t have the money to pay for grain purchases for the PDS, it just tells FCI to wait a bit, and wait it does. Which is why it comes as a surprise that the same rules don’t apply to Coal India Limited (CIL).
Last year, when the coal shortage got really bad, the PMO was keen CIL supply more legally binding fuel supply agreements (FSAs) with power producers. Since CIL wasn’t convinced, a Presidential Directive had to be issued to it—this is sort of a brahmastra, used in very serious situations. CIL still didn’t quite fully comply, but a compromise was reached to sign 60,000 MW worth of FSAs. When the PMO wanted CIL to hike this to 78,000 MW, for some reason the usual levers of control over PSUs continue to remain ineffective. So another Presidential Directive has had to be issued. Hopefully CIL’s independent directors who are quick to take umbrage at such directives realise how special they are.