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May 9, 2002 | 1140 IST
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Minister's departure may push heavy industry selloffs

BS Economy Bureau

A dark horse in the race for the Lok Sabha Speaker's post, Heavy Industries Minister Manohar Joshi pulled a coup of sorts.

In an interview with Business Standard last year, Joshi had proclaimed that his ministry might well be shut down in the next three to four years. After privatising most of the 49 public sector enterprises under the ministry, he had said there would be no need for maintaining a separate ministry.

As minister for heavy industry, Joshi had all the PSE chiefs queuing up before him every quarter to present a review of their performance. Time and again, Joshi asked them to buck up or face the music.

During his 30-month tenure, however, the financial position of the PSEs did not show any marked improvement. In 2000-01, just about a dozen companies recorded profits before tax.

Joshi's record in pushing the reforms agenda of the National Democratic Alliance government, too, has been criticised in many quarters. His unwillingness to let go the control of some of the companies under his ministry, including Maruti Udyog Ltd, is no secret.

According to the divestment ministry, the heavy industry ministry had on two occasions 'misplaced' the file on Maruti's divestment.

Joshi's ministry, however, claimed that its objection was on the timing of the divestment. Maruti could fetch a better valuation only after it posted net profits, it said.

Joshi's ministry had opposed the Maruti divestment even when the divestment ministry moved a Cabinet note. He raised objections claiming that Maruti would seek recourse to component imports at the expense of domestic automobile component manufacturers.

The minister had often cited safeguarding workers' interests as his principal objective whenever he was criticised for stalling reforms. He made it clear that his objections to divestment should be seen in a virtuous light since they centered on the workers' interests.

A white paper, which was supposed to lay the roadmap for all the PSEs under the heavy industry ministry, has not yet seen the light of day. Under preparation for over a year now, the paper is yet to be placed before the Cabinet.

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