With the Left parting ways with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the trust vote won, the government is back to business.
On Thursday, the Union Cabinet approved the merger of State Bank of Saurashtra with its parent, the State Bank of India (SBI), while the Telecom Department waived licence fees on rural landlines and the Defence Ministry invited bids for the purchase of 197 helicopters.
Also, the Finance Ministry began reviewing measures that were earlier blocked by the Left — topping the agenda is the revival of the government’s disinvestment programme and further liberalisation of the financial sector.
The decision to waive licence fees on rural landlines was aimed at promoting the use of telephones in rural areas and boosting e-governance through the provision of more broadband services in villages, said an official statement. It would help “reduce the digital divide”, but cost Rs 200 crore in lost revenue.
The Telecom Commission also decided to reduce the levy towards the Universal Service Obligation Fund for telecom service providers, who have already covered over 95 per cent of rural areas.
The fund was set up to create infrastructure in rural and remote areas to provide affordable telecom services.
The merger of State Bank Saurashtra with SBI would enable the former “to face competition arising from globalisation of the economy, apart from augmenting efficiency and enabling better management of risk”, said Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunshi.
It was on hold for several years due to pressure from Communists who control these banks’ unions. An SBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision came as “a surprise”.
The unions, which fear job cuts, threatened to stage a nationwide strike.
Meanwhile, the Department of Disinvestment in the Finance Ministry began work on identifying profit-making public sector companies not listed in the stock market, which could go in for listings.
A senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government was looking to offload additional equity in two large public sector undertakings — MMTC and NMDC — that are already listed. If that happens within this fiscal, the government could raise up to Rs 20,000 crore.