The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on Wednesday approved the strategic divestment of the government’s 53.29% stake in oil refiner Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, and four other state-run companies, PTI reported. The Bharat Petroleum sale will not include the strategic Numaligarh Refinery Limited in Assam. This is reportedly the biggest ever privatisation drive by the government.

The government also provided relief to the financially stressed telecom sector by deferring spectrum auction payments for two years. It will provide Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio benefits worth Rs 42,000 crore. Since Monday, the telecom companies have announced an increase in tariffs. However, the companies will have to pay applicable interest on deferred spectrum payments.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made the announcements in New Delhi after a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The decision to divest stake in the public sector companies may help the Centre bridge the widening fiscal gap. Sitharaman said the strategic sale would help the government achieve its divestment revenue target of Rs 1.05 lakh crore for the current financial year.

Apart from Bharat Petroleum, the other public-sector undertakings are Shipping Corporation of India, Container Corporation of India, THDC India Limited and North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited. The government holds 63.75% stake in Shipping Corporation of India, and 30.8% of the shares of Container Corporation of India.

The finance minister said National Thermal Power Corporation Limited – India’s largest power generation company – would buy the government’s entire holding in power producers THDC India Limited and North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited. The government has also decided to reduce its stake in select public sector firms below 51% to boost revenue collections, which have declined because of slowdown in economic growth.

The Cabinet also approved the import of 1.2 lakh tonnes of onions as the domestic prices of the vegetable has surged in recent weeks. In order to facilitate private imports, the government has relaxed phytosanitary and fumigation norms till December.

The government also approved a bill to replace an ordinance promulgated to reduce corporate tax to 22% to boost the economy, and another piece of legislation granting ownership rights to people living in unauthorised colonies in Delhi, PTI reported.