On 23rd August, Monday, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the Rs 6-trillion National Monetisation Pipeline of assets, including a range of assets put on the block for private sector participation.
It would also include the Centre’s four-year plan to monetize its brownfield infrastructure assets.
Union Budget 2021-22 had emphasized asset monetization to raise innovative and alternative financing for infrastructure.
The NMP is a roadmap for asset monetization of various brownfield infrastructure assets across sectors, including roads, railways, aviation, power, oil and gas, and warehousing. Up to 25 airports, 40 railway stations, and 15 railway stadiums, among other installations, have been identified for private investment.
Among the assets the government plans to lease is 26,700 km of roads, 90 passenger trains, 400 railway stations, 28,608 circuit km transmission lines, 286,000 km of Bharatnet fibre network, and 14,917 towers owned by state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd
“Monetising operating public infrastructure assets is a very important financing option for new infrastructure construction. A National Monetization Pipeline of potential brownfield infrastructure assets will be launched,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.
The Centre aims to raise ₹88,000 crores by leasing infrastructure assets of central government ministries and state-run companies under a ₹6 trillion National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) this year.
The government has prepared A portal with an asset monetization dashboard to monitor the real-time progress of NMP. It will provide a one-stop-shop to investors.
But ever since the announcement, the NMP has become a huge political flashpoint as the NMP received heavy criticism from the opposition as
Big names from the Congress party Trinamool Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram lashed out at the Centre’s decision.
Rahul Gandhi accused the government of “selling India’s crown jewels,” claiming that the move aims at helping “2-3 private players” and compared the decision with the British East India Company, creating a monopoly.
While addressing a press conference, former finance minister P Chidambaram and Rahul Gandhi said, “The Narendra Modi-led government is in the process of selling India’s crown jewels built by previous governments with public money over 70 years. We are not against privatization. Our (UPA government’s) privatization had a logic, and there was no privatization of strategic industry such as the railways. All this privatization is for creating monopolies. You know who owns ports and (is) getting airports.”
Adding about Bharatiya Janata Party creating a Monopoly, he said, “I had warned about Covid, and you all made fun of me. When this starts, your chances of getting employment will be less. The assets of India are being sold, and it is an attack on your future. Modi Ji believes large monopolies can save this country. You will see a dramatic increase in anger and violence. He is an instrument for doing some particular job for these people.”
“The BJP’s slogan was that there had been no development in 70 years. Yesterday the finance minister announced a decision to monetize all the assets built in the past 70 years,” he further said.
He urged Congress to make a comprehensive report examining the impact the NMP will have, including that on current reservation schemes.
At the conference, Former finance minister P. Chidambaram said that the government wasn’t thinking about the project, and there are no criteria and goals for the monetization scheme.
“We are going to raise Rs.1.54 lakh crore every year — can this be a sole goal to sell assets? You don’t embark upon the exercise without consulting stakeholders. This is all hatched in secrecy in this wonderful organization called Niti Aayog. How can you match Rs.100 lakh crore with Rs.6 lakh crore in five years?” He questioned.
Sachin Pilot too, claimed that the asset monetization programme was selling the assets to the private sector at ‘throwaway prices. “The Centre should help poor and middle-class people instead of handing over the assets of the country to select people,” Pilot said.
Calling the decision unfortunate, Mamata Banerjee alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is mistaking national assets as their own assets or for the Prime Minister.
“These are not PM Modi’s or the BJP’s assets. These are national assets which belong to the country. The Prime Minister cannot sell the national assets. It is an unfortunate decision and I am shocked. Many people will join me in condemning this decision,” Mamata said while addressing a press conference
Senior party leader of the Trinamool Congress Sukhendu Shekhar Roy called it a dangerous bid. “NMP is an unprecedented anti-people move which did not figure in the BJP election manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls,” he said.
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav called it a “sinister plan” to curtail government jobs, which is against the interests of people and the country, reported news agency ANI.
Hitting back at the critical commentary of the opposition, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “Does he (Rahul Gandhi) understand what monetization is? It was Congress that sold the country’s resources and made kickbacks in it.”
Mocking him while questioning about 2008 RFP, she said, “Didn’t the Congress government bring RFP (Request for Proposal) to the New Delhi railway station in 2008? I would want to ask Rahul Gandhi, who owns the railway station now. Jijaji (brother-in-law)?”
During an interaction with bankers in Mumbai, Nirmala Sitharaman mentioned how Rahul Gandhi had torn an ordinance in front of the media when the then Prime Minister was out of the country.
“Why didn’t he tear up the RFP for New Delhi Railway station if he was against monetization?” she questioned. She further said, “Our policy is not about selling off. There will be a strict handing back.”
Addressing the launch of the NMP, she had said, “The ownership of the assets will remain with the government. There is a mandatory hand back rule. The national monetization pipeline focuses on brownfield assets where investment was made and is languishing or remains under-utilized.”
Ms. Sitharaman’s cabinet colleague, Union minister Smiriti Irani too, ripped into the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. “In 70 years of Independence, the district the MP led (Amethi) did not even get a district hospital. Their problem is that 6 lakh crore rupees will come from this disinvestment. That’s why they are having trouble,” she said.
“When there was the Congress party’s government in Maharashtra, they had done Rs 8,000 crore monetization in the Mumbai-Pune Expressway project. So, is Rahul Gandhi saying that the Congress government in Maharashtra sold off the Mumbai – Pune Expressway to the private sector?” Irani further went on to question.
“Similarly, in 2008, one RFP was floated for the New Delhi Railway Station when the Congress party government was in power at the Centre. Is Rahul Gandhi saying that the government in which the head of the government was his mother Sonia Gandhi was that government trying to sell off the country and its assets?”
“Again, in 2006, the privatization drive of airports was started by the Congress-led Union government which was headed by Sonia Gandhi, so is Rahul Gandhi, implying that the Congress government sold off roads, railways, and airports of the country,” Irani said.
In a statement calling out Rahul Gandhi’s “hypocrisy” she said, “The manner in which Rahul Gandhi has commented has once again reflected his political hypocrisy and bankruptcy. It again proves that he had shamelessly tried to target the Central Government which has brought the entire monetization process in a transparent manner and fill coffers of the country and saved the country from the ‘thieves’ of the Congress party.”
She highlighted that the Narendra Modi government has started this process for the development and progress of the country and to save the country from the “corrupt Congress”.
“The National Monetisation Pipeline announced by the Union Finance Minister, yesterday was very clearly stated that the the government will continue to hold the ownership of all its assets. Apart from keeping the ownership rights of all the assets in the entire monetization plan, the government has also decided to ask the state governments to appoint its nodal officers for the entire monetization process,” she said.
“Does Rahul Gandhi believe that all the Congress governments in the states which are undertaking the monetisation drives are also selling off their states and its assets to the private parties?”
“Some people are thinking and spreading canards that the government will sell off these properties, but it is a big lie. The government will continue to hold the ownership of all these properties. The government will give on lease only those properties which are underutilized assets. The ownership of these properties will continue to remain with the government, and the private sector partners will have to compulsorily return it to the government after a fixed time period,” she said.
“The money raised from the entire monetisation plan will be spent in massive infrastructure development that will further boost growth and development of the country,” she added.
Adding to everything, senior BJP leader and Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on 24th August that the Congress party is a “non-performing asset” that has no value.
Speaking to reporters, Naqvi called the opposition party a “depressed defaulter dynasty” and a “champion of confusion and contradiction”.
While the Modi government and the BJP are engaged in the “construction of the country”, the Congress is involved in the “destruction of the country”, he alleged.
All that can be said on the condition of the Congress is “good luck and get well soon,” he said.
The argument, discussions, and allegations are expected to keep coming, as this is one massive move in the Indian economy. The many political parties now uniting against the BJP government will not be a silent spectators to this.