Just after a fortnight of the Parliament’s monsoon session, the Union government envisaged a new plan to monetize assets worth Rs.6 lakh crore - popularly known as National Monetization Pipeline (NMP) Plan in 13 sectors. Precisely, NMP aims to monetize assets under the Union government over a period of four years - from FY22 to FY25. The seriousness of its intent is evident from the discount offered for state-owned assets.
In fact, an International Monetary Fund report entitled ‘Making Public Investment More Efficient’ that was released in 2015 brought out that India was among the top five economies with the highest level of public assets. The report highlighted that plugging the public investment efficiency gap can double the impact of investment on growth. India was believed to have public assets worth $4.5 trillion. The report categorically recommended the recycling of public assets in emerging markets. NMP may also be seen in this light. Public assets monetization includes 26,700 kilometres of highways worth Rs.1.6 lakh crore; 400 railway stations and 150 trains (worth Rs.1.5 lakh crore); 42,300 circuit kilometres of power transmission lines (worth Rs. 0.67 lakh crore); 5,000 MW hydro, solar and wind power generation assets (worth
Rs. 0.32 lakh crore); 8,000 kilometres of national gas pipelines (worth Rs.0.24 lakh crore); 4,000 kilometre pipelines of IOC and HPCL (worth Rs.0.22 lakh crore); BSNL and MTNL towers (worth Rs.0.39 lakh crore); 21 airports and 31 ports (worth
Rs.0.34 lakh crore); 160 coal mining projects (worth Rs. 0.32 lakh crore) and two sports stadiums (worth Rs.0.11 lakh crore) etc.
The National Monetization Pipeline aims at handing over productive national assets including vital functional infrastructural assets worth several lakhs of crores of rupees to domestic and foreign private monopolies for a pittance. Though it is stated that the project is a big step for international finance capital, yet NMP may turn out to be a pipeline of corruption while handing over public assets to private hands. It is owing to the fact that the assessment of the worth of huge national assets at ` 6 lakh crore itself exposes the atrocious extent of deliberate undervaluation only to facilitate the private corporates to take over these vital infrastructural assets at throw away prices.
The Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) lamented that NMP is not meant for augmenting infrastructural growth in the country as claimed by the Indian finance minister and the NITI Aayog. Rather it is designed to allow private corporate masters to earn huge revenues out of the going to be privatised/leased out national infrastructure assets without making any capital investment. Instead of investing in infrastructural growth, the private corporate lobby including foreign entities is going to provide the avenue to mint huge wealth through exploitation of national infrastructural assets handed over to them under the garb of asset monetization.
An analysis of numbers highlight that the monetization is not proving to be a win-win situation for the government. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) was expected to fetch Rs. 84,800 crore by 2024 by monetizing 6,165 km of roads at the rate of Rs.13.8 crore per km. However, budget 2020 decreased the target to Rs.10 crore per km. Now the NMP puts the value at less than Rs.6 crore per km. Earlier on September 28, 2020 ahead of 30 September deadline, NHAI cancelled the tender for the auction of Bundle 4-Highway projects under the toll-operate-transfer (TOT) model.
Monetising Indian Railways’ assets also did not remain bountiful. The government in 2021 expected to raise Rs.30,000 crore by selling 109 routes to the private sector to run 150 trains clubbed under 12 clusters – ` 2,500 crore per cluster. However, it had to cancel the process after only two players participated and bids worth 7, 2000 crore only could be made. Under the NMP, now 12 clusters are proposed for monetization at 40% discount at Rs. 21,642 crore - Rs.1,800 crore per cluster. Pertinently, plans to modernize railway stations under the Public-Private Partnership mode never took off.
In comparison to rail and roadways airport, privatisation yielded better results. The government plans a capex of Rs.10,782 crore by monetizing 25 airports an average of Rs. 107.28 crore per airport per annum. In comparison to the earlier proposed capex of Rs.53,020 crore for expansion and modernization of 15 airports (176.7 crore per airport per annum), rupees ` 107.28 crore per airport per annum is still a better proposition.
There is another concern - whether the Rs.6 trillion values can be realized on time. The last budget planned to monetize Rs. 60,000 crore of road assets in four years - Rs.15,000 crore each year. The NMP sees the government monetizing nearly three times that amount each year. Thus, it would not be a cakewalk to monetize such a big public sector.
Taking the argument of the government, if the government does not have the money for development, it is not the fault of the countrymen, but certainly due to the destructive policies of the government. Last but not the least, how the money mobilised through monetization would be used? It is unclear whether the entire amount will flow to the exchequer or will be used to settle past debts or will be utilised for productive investment. The proposed policy is in continuum to the privatisation policy already envisaged under which various public sectors undertaking like BPCL, Air India, steel plants like finan Steel and nationalised banks will bring destruction for the national economy. These assets are not the properties of any government, rather these have been built by the hard-earned money of the countrymen and the government does not have any right to sell them through a bumper sale.