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Re-election game of Dr Tedros: Question China, act non-partisan

Savio Rodrigues

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The statement — “There has been a premature push to rule out virus might have escaped from Chinese government lab in Wuhan” — by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday at the global media briefing from Geneva stumped me and got me thinking. He further added that investigating the origins of Covid-19 in China was being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of the spread there and urged it to be transparent. “We ask China to be transparent and open and to cooperate. We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to know what happened.”

For a moment, I allowed myself to believe that the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) probably developed a conscience after finally coming to terms with millions of lives lost and billions of people suffering on account of his and his office’s dereliction of duty and because of pandering to China’s coverup of its role in the Covid-19 pandemic. But Dr Tedros is not a health practitioner, he is a politician. And it is rare in the world to find a politician with a conscience. So there is more than what meets the eye behind his statement. I remember, on 6 April 2020, I had questioned Dr Tedros in a one-question interview during the global media briefing in Geneva. My question was: On 14 January 2020, WHO stated ‘Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.’ As an independent global health organisation why did WHO have to rely on China’s preliminary investigations and not conduct its own investigations? To which he replied: “The rule we have in WHO and other UN agencies is when a member state reports, we post the member state report as is. What we did on 14 January on Twitter is we posted China’s report as is. That doesn’t mean that we agree or we disagree; we’re just reporting what came. If India reports, we post India’s report as is. If my country Ethiopia reports, we post that report and treat the same way all 194 member states. But when we post their reports on Twitter or website, we just put it as is and don’t change anything. But at the same time, if we have some differences with what is reported, we can say it. Before 13 January, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove and other colleagues were saying there is a likelihood of human-to-human transmission. Even on 14 January, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove and other colleagues were briefing journalists and they said, there is a likelihood of human-to-human transmission. Our guidance reflected all that.

When China officially reported that it discovered human-to-human transmission on 22 January, we just reported again exactly as we received it from China. That’s a normal procedure and we do it for any country but that doesn’t mean that we accept it or not. The most important thing is our guidance before, during, and after 14 January included the likelihood of human-to-human transmission. That helped countries to prepare.”

On 23 April 2020, I had an opportunity to participate in a one-question interview with Dr Tedros. I asked him: If he had the opportunity to rewind and go back would WHO have called the pandemic earlier than it did or much later? Dr Tedros replied: “Yes, I would like to add to that. My colleagues have already said; based on the International Health Regulations 2005, what is expected from WHO is declaring the Public Health Emergency of International Concern as early as possible based on the factors and as Mike said, the highest emergency as far as IHR is concerned was declared on 30 January. During that time, as Maria said, there were fewer than 100 cases, there were 82 confirmed cases on 30 January outside China. In China, we had more cases but outside China, we had only limited cases and most of these were in the neighbourhood and most of them — since they’re in the neighbourhood — the rest of the world was still reporting no cases. We had few in Europe: five from France, one from Finland, four from Germany; 10 cases in Europe when we declared a Global Emergency. 

In Africa, we didn’t have any cases. From the Middle East, the UAE had four cases so you can see it for yourself. We triggered the highest level of emergency when the rest of the world had only 82 cases and no deaths.  To add to that, a Global Emergency is discussed among experts. We have experts representing all over the whole world and they met on 23 January. They couldn’t agree; they were divided.  Then they continued for a second day but still, they couldn’t agree. Of course, they agreed to meet in six, seven days and then met for a second time on 30 January, when, based on the criteria we have, they were convinced that the criteria were met to declare this a Global Emergency. Looking back, I think we declared the Emergency at the right time and when the world had enough time to respond. ”

I remember the visit of Dr Tedros to China and his pro-China statements which was a consequence of his meeting with the President of China Xi Jinping on 28 January 2020. He said:

“It (China) has already done incredible things to limit the transmission of the virus to other countries. And where respect is due, then you don’t punish. Meaning if anyone is thinking about taking measures, it’s going to be wrong. And WHO doesn’t recommend, and actually opposes, any restrictions for travel and trade or other measures against China.

I think visiting China was a very important one, which is not a new one. Of course, I did it many times to other countries where there were outbreaks and so on. This one was special because I was able to learn many things from what China is doing. And I’m very confident about what they’re doing. I have seen the capacity, and I believe that they will control this outbreak as soon as possible. They have all the capacity that needs.

But not only what they’re doing is protecting their people, but I know from the figures also, you know that it’s protecting the rest of the world. Outside China, we only have 98 cases and no deaths. If strong measures were not taken in China this would not have happened. And that’s why I also said we have to appreciate what China is doing. And this declaration is not actually because China is not doing what it can. It’s actually doing more than China is required to do.”

On 27 September 2020, when questioned that the Covid-19 pandemic came from China at the global media briefing, Dr Tedros stated: “The virus has happened naturally. These are all the publications we know, and if there is anything that will change this, it should come through the proper scientific process.”

Early last year, when he was repeatedly questioned on his closeness to China by many in the media. Dr Tedros stated: “I cannot say they hid or they didn’t. If something is hidden, the world would have witnessed more cases spilling outside its border, given how connected China is to the rest of the world. But the number of cases is very small. Even if China hides it, I don’t think the cases would be prevented from crossing the borders to other countries. So it really defeats the logic.” Interestingly, his change of views contradicts the WHO Investigation panel that conducted the first study into the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan, China. They opined: “Introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway.”

So when Dr Tedros now does a volte-face on China. I am inclined to believe that this is a new game of the top chief of the WHO.

Rising questions over the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, and research papers by global scientists indicating the possibility of a lab-leak at the Wuhan Virology Lab but most of all the election of the new Director-General of WHO could be the reasons behind this change in his statements on China.

Dr Tedros wants to be re-elected to the post of Director-General of the WHO. With most Member States questioning the dereliction of duty of the WHO under him. There reportedly is a sense of unsurety in the Dr Tedros camp on whether he would be re-elected. China lobbied hard for Dr Tedros for his first tenure. This time, he would need more than China’s lobbying, especially with the US having trained its gun on China with a focus to pin the blame on the Covid-19 pandemic on China.

The US also wants to cover up its own footprints over the continuation of the controversial gain-of-function research experiments at Wuhan Virology Lab. For which funds granted to Dr Shi Zhengli came from the US government through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under Dr Anthony Fauci. Dr Tedros needs more countries to back him and he cannot rely on China alone. He is not distancing himself from China but spinning to a subtle cover stating in his statement yesterday: “I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen. It’s common.”

The attempt now is to push the spin that if indeed a lab-leak theory gains global traction and evidence emerge, then it must be portrayed as accidental. Thereby absolving China of the questions over a bio-weapon and attributing the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic to an accidental lab leak. Dr Tedros’ recent statements are not misleading at all and neither is it a change of heart. It is the re-election game of Dr Tedros.

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Tushar Mehra & Mallika Puri, Co-Founders, Talentopedia on digitizing India’s freelance economy

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In an exclusive conversation, as a part of NewsX India A-List, Tushar Mehra and Mallika Puri, Co-Founders of Talentopedia spoke about their venture and the importance of focusing on digitizing India’s freelance economy.

In his inaugural comments, Tushar Mehra said, “At Talentopedia, our aim is to digitize the Indian freelance economy and we are doing that by giving an app to freelancers to help them better manage and grow their businesses. There are about 20 million freelancers in India, despite that big number most of freelancing happens offline. The best way to grow your business is not to sell your services on online markets, the best way to do it is to get work through first degree networks.”

Joining the conversation, Mallika said, “I have been a freelancer myself, I’ve worked in the industry for 5-6 years. I have personal experience with respect to being a freelancer and the challenges that we ourselves faced. I have tried to generate business as a single army through online platforms like freelancer.com, fiveearth and I could never generate any business because I would spend my prime hours of working on online platforms just to generate business.”

“I realised these platforms are not build for freelancers and people like myself, they are built for buyers where they come on board, generate as many leads, whereas, the freelancers are just on the platform to bid for those leads that are coming on board. But we are constantly cost-cut, facing a lot of challenges with various different freelancers who are verified by the platform. Thus, we land up with zero work. So, we’d rather switch to offline channels through first degree networks to get our own business and manage work. That’s how Talentopedia was born. So, that we could cater to the freelancers first, make them our focus, focus on their challenges and then cater to the buyers,” said Mallika.

Commenting on how Talentopedia is set apart to help freelancers apart from helping and creating a market place, she added,“Freelancers are our prime focus, they are our customers. We look at providing them business-management tools through our application that helps them to manage their business, generate leads and also grow their business.”

Explaining how Talentopedia works, Tushar stated, “We have an application on the google play store. We have a portfolio to upload projects freelancers have done, list their skills and services they sell. You can even input reviews you get from Facebook and other platforms. You can use our payment links to get easy payments like UPI (Unified Payments Interface). If you are working, getting clients offline through your first degrees, use our tool, manage those clients.”

Recalling their journey so far and future plans for Talentopedia, Puri said, “The journey has been absolutely amazing, we have around 100,000 freelancers on our Android app. In next five years, we want to see 10 million freelancers on our app. We want to create job opportunities for people who are looking at freelancing as their source of income in the pandemic.”

Towards the end, Tushar added, “If you’re a freelancer, this is the perfect time to join our platform and start growing because with the pandemic, a lot of start-ups have recently started to hire freelancers as they have realised the power of freelance.”

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“Got a lot of opportunities from global companies after Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative”: Raj Chodankar, Chairman & CEO, Rrps4e Innovation Pvt Ltd

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Raj Chodankar

NewsX was recently joined by Raj Chodankar, Chairman & CEO, Rrps4e Innovation Pvt Ltd for a candid conversation with in its special series, NewsX India A-List.

Raj kickstarted the conversation by sharing insights from his experience in the electro-optics and healthcare industry. He said, “Our journey actually commenced in the year, 1990, that’s when we first ventured into doing some sort of business in India, but, the real assignment that we took up was in 2001 when we built up a very unique nano-machining facility, one of its kind in India, which catered specifically to the nuclear fraternity. So, that was the platform which took us into electro-optics because most of the optical elements that go into an electro-optics need the nano-machining setup and that’s where our journey began in 2010-12.”

He further added, “2014 was when we did a really good job for the Indian army as an outside partner with an Israeli company where we built all the optical elements for thermal imaging fire control system which gets mounted on a tank that is where we started getting recognition and our journey then progressed into trying to offer complete products rather than only components because there was a lot of value addition in the products.”

Throwing some light on their journey further, Raj expressed, “We got very prominent in 2018-19 and we were recognised well. 2020 was the time when we diversified into healthcare and it was only because of the challenges that the entire world was facing due to the pandemic. Because we had this thermal core technology which was the base, we used that thermal core technology to build thermal scanners for fever detection and then we use this thermal camera jointly with a Japanese company.”

Further talking about their collaborative projects in India and PM’s Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, he said, “The era of making India Atmanirbhar is something that has always encouraged us and it continues to encourage us, or else life was very difficult for any entrepreneur to display his skills or innovation because at the end of the day we have to remember that if we are going into some niche technologies or products that go into Indian army, it is very important that these products go through some extensive trials and these trials by default can be anything between 1.5 to 3 years. The use of the Atmanirbhar plan under Make In India plan allowed us to buy technologies from global companies which made the buyers life much more simpler because  it was a proven technology, and, we could then display our skills because the global technology provider will allow us to build 50 per cent of those modules or components in India which we call as the indigenously designed, developed and manufactured in India, the IDDM category.”

Towards the end of conversation, Raj shared about their global tie-ups. He stated, “After this Atmanirbhar setup, we got a lot of opportunities from global companies that wanted to partner with somebody who is already a part of the ongoing technologies and which is where we got an upper hand over the others. Not that we are of corporate level, we are just getting into corporate zones. We are doing really well, our growth pattern is going into constant jumps.”

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“We want everyone who follows and wears the brand to be love generation”: Founders of LoveGen

Founders of LoveGen, Bhavana Pandey, Nandita Mahtani and Dolly Sidhwani joined us on our special series and shared with us the idea behind the brand and their experiences.

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In an exclusive interview with NewsX India Alist, Founders of LoveGen, Bhavana Pandey, Nandita Mahtani and Dolly Sidhwani joined us on our special series. LoveGen is a brand that is uniquely tailored to meet the taste of an adventurous young generation who love to enjoy life and are interested in fashion, music and social media. LoveGen allows both young men and women to express themselves through clothes at every occasion.

Bhavana shared with us the idea behind the brand and said “All three of us have been friends for almost 20 years now. Fashion and marketing was something that was common between the three of us now, Nandita has been a designer for many years and Dolly had a brand and comes from an export background. I had a bit of marketing experience in fashion. Over many of our conversations, we realized that we don’t have fast fashion Indian brands which can be spread over all age groups and something comfortable.”

“That’s how the idea came about, and three of us were pretty much on the same page with it and we just decided to go for it and finally execution happened quite quickly,” added Bhavana.

Nandita Mahtani shared with us about the coming of the brand together and said “This is something that we all individually wanted to do and it was just about finding the right people to do it with because to start a new brand on this level is not an easy job. The three of us connected and our synergy was great and there was no turning back.”

Dolly Sidhwani talked to us about the thought behind the brand’s name and how LoveGen wants everyone to be loved. “We wanted to create a community about love, and there was a lot of hate around the world right now. We want everyone to be about love and everyone who follows us and wears the brand to be love generation,” said Dolly.

With so much prior experiences in the world of fashion and design, the founders elaborated on the USP of the brand and what sets it apart from others in the market. “Right now we are very focused on denims and what is really different about our brand is that it is very relaxed and at the same time it’s very glamorous and simple and interesting and it’s very cool and this is what sets it apart. A lot of our design elements come into play from our travels and whatever we carry back from our travels,” explained Dolly.

Renowned fashion designer Nandita shared her experiences working on that brand and said “LoveGen is a very affordable brand for everyone and it was very exciting to design. We have a lot more styles for every season and it’s more sort of interesting for the younger generations.” “We wanted more mass appeal so there was a lot of more scope,” added Nandita.

Throwing light on the journey of the brand in the wake of the pandemic and turbulent times, Bhavana told us “The last one and a half years, people have been through so much. We were fortunate because we have got partners who’ve invested in the brand. They were really supportive with us and the three of us been like very strong about it. We made sure to keep that our employees, our people are loved as much as we could. And we’ve kind of waded through this whole time together.”

Adding on how they are looking at the positive side, Bhavana further added “Our store in Malad, which is the Inorbit Mall has opened again and two more stores in Indore. We’re looking at opening more stores this year. We have started our brand online as well so we’re getting a lot of eyeballs on LoveGen.com.”

Talking about the emergence of digital marketing and sales, Dolly added “Social media is a huge part of our world but somehow I think there’s always going to be a balance between brick and mortar and digital. It is going to be a lot digital going forward but we are also planning to open 30 to 50 stores in the next two years.”

On an ending note, the founders of the brand advised their fans and viewers to never give up on dreams and follow their dreams and do what they love.

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I never thought that I would ever going to be part of Hungama 2: Meezaan

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After making his debut with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Malaal, Actor Meezaan is all set to carve a space for himself in the hearts of audiences with Hungama 2 on Disney + Hotstar. The young hearthrob recently joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation as part of NewsX India A-List and spilled the beans on ‘behind-the-scenes’ hungama.

Reminiscing memories from the release of earlier ‘Hungama’, Meezan said, “I was actually 8 years old when the movie had come out in 2003. I remember going to Globus theatre in Bandra and watching it with a friend of mine and his mother. Ever since, even when the film comes on TV, we watch it till date. Sometimes while scrolling through the channels, suddenly we see Hungama, we always stop by for those iconic scenes. I never thought that i would ever going to be part of Hungama 2 about 18-19 years later. It has been a surreal experience for me. I am just grateful for this opportunity that has come and working with the people who are working on this film.”

On his full-fleged entry into the comedy genre, a genre in which his family has made a huge mark and their reaction to the script, Meezaan said, “The funny thing is that there was no script. There was just a name. I got a call saying, ‘Will you do a Priyadarshan film?’, and I said, ‘Ofcourse, yes’, without any hesitation because it is Priyan sir and it is honestly an honour to be working with him in my career. It is my second film and i am thrilled to get this opportunity and it has turned out to be amazing. I can’t wait for people to finally see the movie.”

Speaking about his experience of working with Filmmaker Priyadarshan and Actor Shilpa Shetty, Meezaan expressed, “It was a surreal feeling because there are too many things that are working in favour of this film, in terms of putting the film together. There is Priyadarshan coming back after a long time. There is the title, ‘Hungama’, which is a big franchise. The producers- Venus, Ratan ji had launched Shilpa Shetty and had done movies like Khiladi, Baazigar and so many other iconic films. You have the starcast, including Paresh ji, Rajpal sir, Johhny Lever, Ashutosh Rana- so many veteran actors. They are amazing at what they do. At the same time, there is Shilpa Shetty as well, who is making her comeback. There is also this song, ‘Chura Ke Dil Mera’, which is an iconic song and she is in the original song. I am with her in this remake. It’s too much that is going on. There is a lot of Hungama happening as it is. I am very happy. It has turned out to be wonderful.

“I am glad i made so many friends, including Shilpa ma’am. She is a wonderful person, full of life. I think she is aging in reverse. She is looking wonderful in the song. She has absolutely killed it. Till date, she has maintained the same energy, same dedication, same work ethic. I’m actually inspired by her and it was a lot of fun working with so many people, ” he added.

Sharing the response he has received for the song, ‘Chura Ke Dil Mera’, Meezaan said, “It has been great. People have loved it. They showered their love, whether through social media, YouTube and stuff like that. It has been great. I have no complaints and it is still going on. There is a lot of Hungama still to be done. We’re taking it one step at a time. There is one more song that came out after, which is called, ‘Chintan’. That song also has received a lot of love from people everywhere. Now we have other song coming out, which is the Hungama title track. It is going to be wonderful and i am excited for everyone to see the whole film as it is.”

Check out the entire interview on NewsX YouTube: 

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IDEA BEHIND DAMROO IS TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MUSIC: RAM MISHRA

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX India A-List, Ram Mishra, Founder and CEO, Damroo App, spoke about his app and how it promotes independent artists and their music.

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Ram Mishra spoke about collaborating with singer Kailash Kher and BJP leader Dr Sambit Patra and how his app promotes independent artists and their music. Talking about the collaboration, Ram said, “I am thrilled about the song ‘Shri Jagannath Ashtakam’, composed and sung by Kailash Kher and Dr Sambit Patra. I am thankful to them and excited to release this song exclusively on the Damroo app. It is a beautiful song about Lord Jagannath. For those people who are not able to attend the Jagannath Yatra this year due to the pandemic, this song is for all of them. Those who don’t like spiritual songs should listen to this one. It is going to fill your mind and heart with energy.”

On being asked about his app, he said, “The idea behind this app is to support independent music and non-film music. There are a lot of digital platforms and apps, that are promoting International and Indian music but this is the only platform that promotes independent music and non-film music. We also kept in mind that a lot of people want to listen to regional music- be it Punjabi, Odia, Gujarati, Assamese, Rajasthani, Bhojpuri or anything else. This platform will provide them with all of this. Just one click and they will be able to get their choice of music. We have songs in more than 20 languages and are also collaborating with regional and independent music artists and labels.”

“We have a service in Damroo Plus, which is designed to support independent artists. There are times when independent singers/musicians don’t have proper platforms or labels to support them, this service will help them to showcase their talent and give opportunities to upload their songs and music on this App. Through this platform, they can also upload their songs on other platforms like Saavn, Gaana and Spotify. In this App, they can also keep a track of their songs/music, like how many people have listened to their song, in which country/cities is it getting popular, how much revenue they are making through these songs and as soon as they claim this revenue from us, we pay them immediately. And, like other music apps or platforms, here also they can make their playlist and create their fan base”, he added. 

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Report card: 30 years of reforms in CPSUs

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The country was in a deep fiscal crisis and facing a very difficult balance of payment (BoP) situation during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The acute fall in the BoP led to an expeditious depletion of forex reserves. It declined to Rs 3142 crore and this sum was not even enough to finance imports for one month.

At that time, there was a minority government at the centre with the support of Congress from outside. To counter the problem and for fiscal correction, the government decided to divest up to 20% of its equity on selected central public sector undertakings (CPSUs) as one of the measures through the interim budget, presented in March 1991.

Later, the Congress party formed the government and introduced a new economic reforms policy in July 1991. The new era of reforms started and it led to the adoption of the disinvestment policy of the previous government. Since 1991, all successive governments have been adopting more or less the same policy for the disinvestment of CPSUs.

In 1998, the BJP-led NDA formed the government and took the initiative of speeding up the process of disinvestment. During the NDA government, the maximum amount was realised through disinvestment in the form of strategic sales. In such a case, the ownership of the CPSUs was given up by the government.

From 2004 to 2009, the pace of disinvestment had slowed down. At that time, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power with the support of the left front. The left parties were not in favour of the disinvestment policy. The left parties forced the government to retain the existing Navratna companies and profit-making CPSUs will not be sold. Accordingly, the strategic sale methodology was called off.

However, during 2009-14, the process of disinvestment had picked up pace as the Congress-led UPA-II formed a full majority government. The government ruled to bring its equity in CPSUs down to 51% without diluting its public sector character.

Henceforth, the BJP-led NDA came back in power under the leadership of Narendra Modi and formed the government in 2014. It seemed that the government would not go ahead with the disinvestment policy as the BJP had not even put disinvestment on its manifesto. It was expected that Narendra Modi may choose to revive CPSUs instead of selling them off. But by ignoring all earlier assumptions the Prime Minister Modi had started giving a new impetus to the process of disinvestment. The government raised Rs 322383 crore from the disinvestment of CPSUs in its five-year tenure. This was done in an average of 21 transactions each year.

In the general election of 2019, the NDA again formed the government. However, this time the government faced tough challenges. The government faced the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic in the financial year 2021. The global pandemic had increased the government’s expenses too much and reduced income drastically. The government tried to speed up the divestment to increase its revenue but failed. The global Covid-19 pandemic had also hindered the process of disinvestment. The government had realised only 15.64 per cent of the amount against the target in the financial year 2020-21.

Therefore, the government adopted a new robust privatisation policy as ‘The Strategic Disinvestment Policy-2021’ (SDP21) for the CPSUs to reduce the fiscal burden. This time the government replaced the word ‘disinvestment’ with ‘privatisation’. All CPSUs have been divided into strategic and non-strategic sectors. The CPSUs of the non-strategic sector will be completely privatised. The government has kept four sectors under the strategic sector and planned to limit its presence in this too as a bare minimum presence.

In addition to disinvestment, the government came up with a monetisation programme under the policy of CPSUs reform. The government has introduced a roadmap for asset monetisation in the budget for 2021. The government has proposed to launch a ‘National Monetisation Pipeline’ to assess the potential value of underutilised and unused government assets.

It is expected that the government’s privatisation programme for FY22 may get delayed due to the second wave of the pandemic. But the government is confident that the target of Rs 1.75 trillion is still achievable. Nevertheless, the government should introduce a transparent policy for CPSUs reform and not limit itself to privatisation alone. The amount raised through disinvestment should be used either to retire old debt and/or to restructure CPSUs. It should not be used for expenditure. 

Vinay K Srivastava teaches at I.T.S Ghaziabad. His Twitter handle is @meetdrvinay

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