Nine years after Atal Bihari Vajpayee's NDA government sold a 25-per cent stake in long distance telecom carrier Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) to the Tata Group, communications minister Kapil Sibal on Monday said the "disinvestment does not seem to be fair and transparent" and ordered a probe into the delay in de-merging ''surplus'' land of 773 acres. Most of this prime land now belongs to the Tatas.
Arun Shourie of the BJP was at the time the 'disinvestment minister' , who later became telecom minister as well.
Sibal ordered that a committee under the telecom additional secretary submit a report on the issue by the month-end. In a note to the telecom secretary, he said, "The strategic partner has enjoyed the precious government land without paying a single rupee for it."
The note added, "The way the issue of de-merger of 773.13 acre of surplus land of VSNL was handled in 2002 and thereafter, not only the interest of investors ... but also government seems to have been adversely affected."
Sibal cited a May 2005 note from the then attorney general Milon Banerji to say the strategic partner - Panatone Finvest, a Tata Sons subsidiary - was "not interested in hiving off / demerger of the surplus land as is the event of status quo, (it) retains the entire land by paying only 25 per cent of the value to the government."
Sibal also cited Banerji's opinion that the "strategic partner is in default of discharging its legal obligations" set out by the shareholder agreement.