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Pressure Mounts on Centre to Reconsider Decision on CEL’s Privatisation

Ronak Chhabra |
A group of former directors and retired senior scientists India’s top research institutes under the CSIR said that the decision to sell CEL to a private entity will hurt public interest as well as national interest.

New Delhi: Pressure is mounting over the Narendra Modi-led central government to reconsider its decision to privatise the Central Electronics Limited (CEL), even as the employees union of the Sahibabad-based central public sector enterprise continue their legal battle against the stake sale in Delhi High Court.

The union is also considering to turn CEL’s privatisation into a poll issue in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Newsclick learnt on Thursday.

On Tuesday, a group of former directors and retired senior scientists of the country’s premier research institutes, which come under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), issued a statement on this issue. They urged the central government to take back its decision to sale the public sector undertaking to Nandal Finance and Leasing Private Limited. The veteran scientists added that they were “shocked” to learn about the development.

“CEL is contributing to frontier areas of electronics manufacturing and product development; it can make an important contribution to the strengthening of strategic domains of downstream electronics for the Make in India programme of the Union Government,” the 35 signatories to the statement said.

The signatories also noted in their statement that they were concerned about the future of CEL, which is known for the development of products through its own efforts and in close association with national and international laboratories, as “analysis of books of accounts of M/s Nandal Finance & Leasing Private Limited indicates that the company is hardly doing any business.”

According to the retired scientists and directors, the said private company has no fixed assets, no land and buildings, while not even a single employee of theirs has completed five years of tenure.

They added, “The sale of CEL violates the avowed commitment of the Union Government to technological self-reliance in strategic areas of electronics, the Constitutional mandate of the Union Government, and it is legally and morally not sustainable. Therefore, from all of these above mentioned considerations, it is clear that the decision to sell CEL to a private entity will hurt the public interest as well as the overall national interest.”

The statement has come days after the central government decided to put the issuance of Letter of Intent (LoI) on hold following irregularities in the sale process being flagged by the CEL employees’ unions and surfacing in the media. Tuhin Kanta Pandey, secretary, Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM), was earlier quoted by the news agency PTI as saying that an inter-ministerial group would examine the allegations.

T K Thomas, vice president, CEL Employees’ Union, told Newsclick on Thursday that the union viewed the statement by former directors and scientists affiliated to the CSIR as a “positive sign”. He also informed that the matter regarding CEL’s privatisation, over which a petition was filed by the union in Delhi High Court in 2020, was heard on Wednesday.

The court has scheduled [the matter] for July 11,” Thomas said, adding, “in the coming days, the unions [at CEL] will consider taking up [the privatisation of CEL] as a poll issue [in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections].”

Even though a final decision on it is yet to be taken, Thomas said that the employees unions were planning to “reach out to the public” and make them aware about the “ill-consequences” of the privatisation of CEL.

Meanwhile, Thursday marks the 120th day of the demonstration staged under the leadership of the joint platform of employees’ unions at CEL's Sahibabad factory. Among those who are part of this umbrella group are the Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU)-affiliated employees' union, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)-affiliated organisation, and the CEL's Executive Association.

The central government had approved the strategic disinvestment of CEL in November last year when Nandal Finance and Leasing Private Limited had emerged as the winning bidder for the sale of 100% equity shareholding in the central public sector enterprise for Rs 210 crore. An ‘in-principle’ approval for the disinvestment of CEL was given by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) back in 2016.

In December last year, the joint platform of trade unions approached the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), alleging “discrepancies” in the CEL's disinvestment process and demanded an investigation by the statutory auditor in the country. According to media reports, the CAG is currently looking at the complaints.

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