Who is Taking Over National Assets in India?
The government has raised more than Rs 97,000 crore in 2021-22 by leasing out state-owned properties to various private entities, it was reported on 14 April. The properties include are related to coal mining (Rs 40,000 crore), various bits of highways (Rs 23,585 crore), power transmission lines (Rs 9,409 crore), etc. [See chart below]
Union finance minister Nirmala Seetharaman held a review meeting of various ministries along with the NITI Aayog where these latest facts were recorded. The target for the year was Rs 88,190 crore and everybody was pleased that it has been exceeded although the programme of leasing out (read: privatising) public assets was launched only seven months ago in August 2021. Officials apparently said that the target for the current financial year—Rs.1.67 lakh crore—is almost surely going to be met, if not exceeded, as already leasing out projects worth Rs 1.62 lakh crore are on the anvil.
The Narendra Modi government has come up with this programme ostensibly to raise resources by ‘monetising’ public property worth Rs 6 lakh core in four years (2022-2025).
Global Pension Funds Taking Over
An intriguing aspect of the review meeting was that the identities of some of the private entities that have taken over the assets were reported by the media. These include: Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Investment Board, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP), Capital Group and Utilico Emerging Markets Trust (UEMT). These are gigantic funds that are invested globally for quick and juicy returns.
For instance, Toronto-based CPP Investment had $497 billion in assets in management while Los Angeles-based Capital Group had more than $2.7 trillion in assets under management both as of December 31, 2021. UEMT is a London-based asset management company with £556 million in assets at the end of 2021. OTPP is a Canadian pension fund which manages $241.6 billion in assets for its members.
Pension funds generally are gigantic pools of money collected from employees’ and employers’ contributions over the working life of employees from which pensions and related benefits are paid out. The funds so collected are invested in various ways, including in the stock markets and in buying or leasing assets like the ones being currently sold in India. It is estimated that globally, some $21.5 trillion in assets are owned and managed by the top 100 pension funds of the world.
The purpose of these funds is to provide a steady return on investment to their contributors. They are not running a charity—they are investing to make profit. If needed, they can sell off their assets if they get a better price from some buyer. Known as asset stripping, this happens specially when undervalued assets are available as is the case with most of the National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) assets.
What All Is Up For Grabs
So, it’s a minefield. And the illustrious government of India has taken a dive into it, making available India’s most-prized assets. Remember: the original NMP proposal had everything from roads to the Railways, ports to airports, telecom infrastructure to power lines, stadiums to pipelines [See summary below, derived from the official NMP portal]
Is This Nationalism or Slavery?
Such brazen handing over of public assets—roads, power lines, railway stations and even sports stadiums—to distant fund managers has never happened in India. All these assets were painstakingly built over the years. They serve the people—and in doing so, ensure the security and sovereignty of the country. Yet the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which spares no opportunity to sermonise others on ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’, which constantly praises the soldiers who defend the country and which is first to impose charges of sedition on the most minor of protests or criticism, and its government have started the process of selling of public assets to foreigners!
Through its disinvestment drive, the government has already sold lakhs of crore worth of public sector industrial enterprises to private corporates. It has loosened up laws so that foreign capital can flow freely into India and invest in everything from coal mines to defence production and space exploration.
In addition, the government has now started “leasing” out public utility assets. This actually means selling them off because leases of 35-40 years will see the end of life for many of the assets. It even has a plan for selling off or “leasing” out land belonging to public sector enterprises and various government bodies under a Land Monetisation programme.
What will the “nation” look like after the BJP is through with its policies? Everything owned or run by faceless corporations with many located in the West? Is that the promise made by Modi and his party for which people voted them into power twice?
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