Shourie touts rules on surplus land to defend VSNL divestment

"There are such stringent clauses that the person who wins the bid on VSNL, we have provided, shall not have any right on the land at all," Shourie told a private news channel.

He added that transfer or sale of the land cannot be done without a special resolution.
"Shareholders agreements and and those clauses are right here. It prohibits the winning bidder, in this case the Tatas, to do anything with the land," he said.

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal has ordered a probe into a delay in demerger of surplus land from VSNL (now Tata Communications) and also examine whether the Tatas enjoyed undue advantage during disinvestment in the company in 2002, an allegation denied by the Tata Group.

The probe will be headed by DoT Additional Secretary S R Rao and the report will be submitted by March 31.

Tata Group company Panatone Finvest Ltd had acquired a controlling stake in Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) on February 13, 2002, for Rs 1,439 crore as part of the disinvestment programme of the then NDA government.

However, at the time of disinvestment, surplus land of 773.13 acres was separated from the disinvestment bids and was to be disposed of as per the Share Holding Agreement (SHA) and Share Purchase Agreement (SPA).

Questioning the role of the UPA government, Shourie said, "The Tatas said they have been writing to the government and the government has not been able to make up its mind, that is for this government to answer. What has it been doing for six years?"
The UPA government has invited bids to hire consultants to ascertain the value of the 773.13 acres of VSNL surplus land and also initiate the process to sell it.

Tata Communications in a statement said, "We welcome any government process that hopefully will expedite the demerger of surplus land, which we have repeatedly requested in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.

"We categorically deny that Tata Communications or the Tata Group has benefited or seeks to derive benefit from the surplus land," it added.

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