Finance minister P Chidambaram on Friday termed his plan to raise capital receipts of R55,814 crore through disinvestment in the next financial year “realistic rather than aggressive” but said that the government's “SUUTI shares”in three private firms would not be sold through the competitive bidding route. The proposed sale of a chunk of SUUTI shares in Axis Bank, ITC and L&T — now vested with an asset management company — would be restricted to a class of buyers like Life Insurance Corporation, State Bank of India or other PSU banks, the minister told FE managing editor MK Venu in an interview for DD News.
Chidambaram said he hoped to get the two Bills on the goods and services tax including that on constitutional amendment passed in the monsoon session of Parliament and hinted that the Reserve Bank of India might take complementary action to promote growth by cutting rates in the upcoming policy review.
Stating that “pure disinvestment” of a clutch of PSUs identified as disinvestment candidates could rake in R40,000 crore, the minister said another R14,000 crore could be raised through the sale of residual government stakes in non-government companies (read Balco, Hindustan Zinc and SUUTI shares).
The Cabinet in March 2012 cleared the winding up of the Specified Undertaking of Unit Trust of India (SUUTI) and the transfer of its assets (11.5% stake in ITC, 23.6% in Axis Bank and 8.3% in L&T) to an asset management company with a view to leveraging these. Explaining why the sale of these shares — which are worth around R43,000 crore at current market prices — was not an obvious option for the government, Chidambaram said: “Even now, we are not saying we are going to sell every one of them. There are some other considerations, including strategic considerations why we may not wish to sell all of them. We may not wish to sell them through competitive bidding either. We might want to sell them to restricted class of buyers like LIC or SBI or banks. These are decisions which will be taken in course of time.”
One “strategic concern” is that selling 11.54% of ITC's shares can trigger a takeover move by the Indian company's parent British American Tobacco, which currently has a 31.6% stake in ITC. Domestic financial institutions hold 20.72% and this might allow BAT to be in the driver's seat if foreign institutional investors which hold 15.26% in ITC support