Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Friday criticised the Centre’s National Monetisation Pipeline and demanded to know the objectives behind the initiative, PTI reported.

Under the National Monetisation Pipeline, the government plans to raise Rs 6 lakh crore till 2025 by leasing out state-owned strategic assets in sectors such as power, road and railways to private entities.

“Congress never sold off strategic assets,” Chidambaram said at a press conference in Mumbai. “What the [Narendra] Modi government plans is a daylight robbery of assets which took years to build.”

He also said that by listing the assets to be monetised, the government has acknowledged Congress’ work over last 70 years. Chidambaram then went on to ask 20 questions about the policy, according to the Hindustan Times.

The Congress veteran demanded that the government should make public the current revenue it earns from the assets that it plans to lease out. “Has the government calculated the difference between the current undisclosed revenue and the expected revenue of Rs 6 lakh crore over four years?” he asked. “If so, what is the difference between the two amounts every year during the four years?”

He also pointed out that the National Monetisation Pipeline is expected to be “coterminous” – meaning complement – with the National Infrastructure Pipeline.

On August 15, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the National Infrastructure Pipeline involved an investment of Rs 100 lakh crore directed towards social and economic infrastructure projects. Chidambaram has been critical of Modi for reiterating the plan on three Independence Day speeches in a row.

“How will Rs 6 lakh crore over four years be sufficient to finance the Rs 100-lakh-crore NIP?” he asked.

Chidambaram also asked the government to clarify if it would use any of the amount to clear a part of the Rs 5.5 lakh crore fiscal deficit incurred in 2021-’22 or to seal other debts.

On preserving vendor’s interests

Chidambaram expressed his reservations about the government’s plan to retain ownership of the assets. “What will be the interest of the party in maintaining the assets if it is not the owner?” he asked.

“The finance minister must be surely owning a house somewhere in India,” Chidambaram said. “She should give it to me on lease for 99 years and she can hang on with the paper that calls her as the owner of the house. What will I give back to her after 99 years?”

He added: “Will I maintain, repair and upgrade it if I am not the owner?”

Chidambaram also wanted to know if a firm or an individual will be able to preserve the current level of employment and policy of reservations once the asset is leased out.

He also asked if the government has examined the impact of the National Monetisation Pipeline on the prices of goods and services in the sectors concerned.

‘What are the plans to avoid monopoly?’

The former finance minister asked what provisions does the Centre plan to provide in the bidding invitations to prevent monopolies or duopolies in the ports, airports, telecom and power sectors.

A government authority can issue an invitation to bid when vendors differ principally on the price of the projects that are to be sold.

An invitation to bid allows the concerned authority to provide detailed specifications, including all the terms and necessary conditions for work on the specific project that it wants to contract out. Vendors can decide if the project is suitable or not for them based on the terms issued.

“We [Congress] always ensured that there is no monopoly in monetisation as we chose assets based on criteria,” Chidambaram said. He added that the Congress only monetised non-core, loss-making assets when in power.

Chidambaram urged people to voice their opposition against “selling off” assets. “After the invitation to bid process starts, someone will surely challenge it,” he added.

Last week, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi too had criticised the National Monetisation Pipeline. “First they [the government] sold their conscience, and now...#IndiaOnSale,” he had tweeted.