A second time Member of Parliament and two time member of the Legislative Council of Maharashtra, Shiv Sena leader Arvind Ganpat Sawant, now the Union Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, in an interview with CSR TIMES explained why it is necessary to disinvest and infuse new blood into the sick industries and those which are on the brink of marginal profits.
CSR TIMES: You represent South Mumbai parliamentary constituency, one of the prestigious seats in the country. What are the expectations of the people who elected you and what are the challenges before you?
Arvind Sawant (AS): The issues during the General Elections 2019 were different as compared to previous elections. The mundane issues were overshadowed by the national issues such as safety and security of the country, terrorism and insurgency. The Bharatiya Janata Party under the strong and able leadership of Narendra Modi and our dynamic leader of Shiv Sena Uddhav Thackery had taken a stand for unity and solidarity. The people of our country gave the historic mandate and it was seen not only in South Mumbai but across the country. The issues related to jobs, health services, educational facilities, clean and safe drinking water were also some of the important points raised in the election campaign, but this time one single issue that dominated attention was the safety and security of the country.
CSR TIMES: You are the Cabinet Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises in the Narendra Modi government representing Shiv Sena, a long-time ally of BJP. How are you going to fulfil the expectations of the party as well as the people of South Mumbai?
AS: The Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises is an important ministry which demands utmost attention from me and imposes responsibility. At present there are 31 industries under my ministry out of which 19 have been closed or on the verge of shutdown due to lack of proper policies and gross mismanagement by the previous governments. So I have inherited a lot of legacy issues and currently I am trying to turn them around with innovative ideas and professional management. To give you one example, I recently took a decision to encourage electrical vehicles – private cars and vehicles for public transport – and this will lead to the manufacture of some 5,000 vehicles a year to begin with. The production line will take an upward turn over the years. As a result, we save foreign exchange on petrol and diesel and reduce air pollution. This will have a cascading effect on the economy and will control pollution. Many developed countries have already been successfully adopting such measures. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given his nod on the proposal.
CSR TIMES: You rose to this important position through rank and file. You were the president of MTNL Union and have fought for the rights of employees. Now as the Union Minister for Public Enterprises how are you going to resolve the pending demands of MTNL employees?
AS: My one-liner to your question is Survive, Revive and Thrive. We are not living in a vacuum. As I mentioned there are many legacy issues and MTNL employees will not be satisfied if I tell them about the policy paralysis during the previous regime. Therefore, we need to cover new grounds, innovate and explore new ideas. If you leave a sick company to fend for itself it would ultimately die on its own. To infuse new blood we need to disinvest some part of our asset so that a fresh lease of life is provided. There are no two opinions about the huge asset value of MTNL and with some disinvestment if we are able to revive it is good for the company, its employees and the nation. We need to think and act positively taking all the stakeholders into confidence.
CSR TIMES: There is a general feeling that the Modi government is pro-private sector and the public enterprises are going to be put on disinvestment plans in due course. How are you going to erase the perception and repose faith among the people?
AS: The Narendra Modi government is pro-people and pro-India. Disinvestment is not a bad word and if it is done in the interest of people and the country, people at large appreciate. Of course, the people on the other side of the isle keep harping on negative things but we need to overcome and act like a visionary. The private sector companies are not necessarily always great and the public sector is inefficient. Kingfisher failed miserably, whereas GVK and GMR who run airports in Mumbai and Delhi are doing absolutely fine. Compare the quality of services and the ambience in these airports which are managed by the government. On the other hand, take the case of Indian Oil Corporation, a government-run company, yet making huge profits. Sweeping generalization will lead us nowhere. We have to identify the problem areas and find right solutions. Proper decisions by the government and making the management accountable is the only route to success.
CSR TIMES: The public enterprises have contributed immensely to the India’s growth story. They have provided a lot of employment opportunities to our people. If you disinvest these companies there will be anguish among public and the private players would do what is best in their own interest. Isn’t it a challenging task for you as the Minister?
AS: Our focus as well is on employment whether we run the enterprise as a government company or on public-private partnership (PPP) model or as a joint venture. When there is investment, job creation happens. The task is quite challenging and I would strive to achieve our objectives in a time-bound manner. Another aspect is diversification of business. Loss in one unit can be compensated with profits in another so that the corporation grows. ITC, whose core business to start with was tobacco, has diversified into other areas such as hotels, hospitality sector, lifestyle clothing, agriculture products, etc. Similarly, Tatas and Reliance have been growing exponentially because of diversification. That’s how the government must start thinking.
CSR TIMES: The Indian industry and the public enterprises have been contributing to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) spend year after year. For PSUs, CSR is an article of faith in achieving their defined objectives. As Minister how do you ensure that CSR is implemented properly and with more vigour?
AS: CSR is one of the core areas of this government. CSR has provided impetus for the success of Swachhata Mission for the past about five years. Both public and private sector companies have contributed to CSR funds and their time and expertise to the Swachhta success. There are three more areas where we want to scale up our efforts on CSR initiatives – health, education and drinking water. There is a lot of work to be done in these areas.
CSR TIMES: Do you wish to rewrite the list of objectives in CSR activities in public enterprises?
AS: There is no need to prepare a new list of objectives. If we focus on improving health care, education and safe drinking water supply to the poor and needy in the coming five years with CSR funding, we can achieve our objectives.
CSR TIMES: Due to the prevailing guidelines, public enterprises even though are engaged in some outstanding projects, can’t go on a publicity drive about their activities. Do you wish to propose some reforms on this matter so that the public at large is informed about the ongoing activities of the public enterprises?
AS: We need to monetize the sick industries and those which are on the brink of marginal profits and recycle the monetized amount. If we do not understand this, we will perish like Nokia, textile companies in Mumbai or Kingfisher. Once right decisions are taken, people would realize the advantages of those decisions. Mere propaganda would lead us nowhere.