DoT response to demerger of surplus land still awaited: Tatas

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Kapil Sibal
New Delhi, Mar 24: Amid a raging controversy over disinvestment of the erstwhile VSNL, Tatas today hit back at the government, saying the company made several attempts since 2005 onward for the demerger of surplus land but the Telecom Ministry's response is still awaited.

In a letter to Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, Tata Communications Chairman Subodh Bhargave gave a summary of the sequences of events since 2005, which also have concurrence of two directors nominated by the government.

Tatas' letter comes in the wake of Sibal raising concerns over the disinvestment of VSNL in 2002, saying, "It has come to my notice that the disinvestment of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) in 2002 does not seem to be fair and transparent."

"Prima facie, the way issue of demerger of 773.13 acres of surplus land of VSNL was handled in 2002 and thereafter, not only the interests of investors but also the interests of the government seems to have been adversely affected," Sibal said in an internal note asking Telecom Secretary R Chandrashekhar to constitute a high-level committee to examine the issue in detail.

The Tatas, however, said "The surplus land remains secured and unused by the company, waiting for a resolution of the demerger issue. The company continues to bear the expenses toward the surplus land's upkeep and security as well as associated property taxes."

More officially, Bhargava said, the company has been unable to raise any non-debt funding during the last few years to support its investment and growth aspirations due to the non-resolution of this issue.

In fact, former Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie, under whom VSNL was sold to Tatas, had also said that if there was any delay in the demerger of the land and if a probe has to be ordered, "it should be against P Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee, the past and present Finance Ministers in the UPA government in past seven years."

Shourie had defended the disinvestment, saying stringent conditions were laid down that prohibited the sale of surplus land by winning bidders.

Bhargava said that the company has participated in a few discussions and received some correspondence on surplus land, but those have been mostly in nature of seeking clarifications and the "DoT response to the draft scheme of demerger is still awaited."

"You (Sibal) would agree that the demerger of this surplus land is waiting for the government's response on the matter. You should also recognise that the Board of Tata Communications has two directors nominated by the government and they are apprised of all these issues," Bhargava said in the letter.

Tata Communications would be "more than willing to share all the facts with you or any officer deputed by you to look into the matter. More importantly, we welcome a speedy resolution of the demerger issue in the best interests of the company and all its shareholders."

PTI

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