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India’s plan to divest state-owned companies is ‘back on track’, says top official

An Air India passenger flight prepares for landing.

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India is “back on track” in its efforts to divest state-owned companies following delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a top official from the Ministry of Finance. 

The country has a disinvestment target of 1.75 trillion rupees (about $24 billion) for the next fiscal year which starts on April 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman revealed during her budget announcement last month.

This means the government will divest by selling state-owned assets to the private sector, or listing them on the stock exchange.

“A lot of preparation work actually was underway, but we had interruptions due to Covid. The disinvestment plan is back on track,” Tuhin Kanta Pandey, secretary at the department of investment and public asset management, said in an interview on CNBC’s “Streets Signs Asia” on Tuesday.

 “We have several transactions lined up and we are hopeful with the government’s firm policy on privatization, that these deals will move forward this year,” he added.

In her budget speech, Sitharaman highlighted the Indian government aims to privatize state-owned companies such as national carrier Air India and oil and gas giant Bharat Petroleum Corporation, among others. She also proposed the privatization of two public sector banks and one general insurance company.

Even though the aviation industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, Pandey said the government is making headway in its privatization plan for Air India.

“The aviation industry is recovering fast and Air India’s divestment plan has been on track for some time. We are moving forward with the expression of interest received and the process is now in the second stage,” he noted.

The Indian government intends to sell its entire stake in the national carrier, according to Pandey.

 “The Air India divestment we are doing is 100%. That means the government is not retaining any stake in this,” he said, adding the aim is to complete the sale by June.

India’s ability to meet its disinvestment target would rely also on the successful initial public offering of state-owned insurer Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India last month relaxed public issue norms to make it easier for the government to sell a part of its stake in India’s largest insurer through a public listing. The IPO is expected sometime later this year.

 “The IPO of LIC is on target. This is one of the largest financial institutions that we have and the work is proceeding on that,” said Pandey.

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