On August 23, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a plan to “monetise” public assets in infrastructure. She claimed that the government expects to collect Rs 6 lakh crores over a four-year period through this method.
According to this plan, infrastructure assets including roads, railway stations, ports, airports, coal mines, power lines, oil and gas pipelines, telecom network, food warehouses and sports stadiums will be leased to private companies. The companies will make an upfront payment for the right to possess and use the assets for a fixed period of 30 to 60 year. During that period, the capitalist company will be free to manage and develop the assets to make private profits. At the end of the lease period, the capitalist company is supposed to return those assets to the government.
Finance Minister Sitharaman says this is not privatisation because the assets are only being leased and not sold. However, whether assets are sold or given out on long-term lease, it is a form of handing over public assets for private capitalist profit. In either case, people will have to pay more for using these assets, in order for the private companies to make more money than they have paid for the lease.
Over 26,000 kilometres of roads currently under the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is on offer to private companies. The government hopes to collect Rs 1.6 lakh crores from this. The private companies can make money by developing roadside restaurants and shops, and potentially also by charging toll fees.
As many as 400 railway stations, 90 passenger trains, 741-km Konkan Railways and 15 railway stadiums and innumerable railway housing colonies are planned to be handed over for an estimated Rs 1.2 lakh crore. Private companies will make money by hiking up rail fares and user fees.
The Airports Authority of India will offer 25 airports on lease, including ones at Chennai, Bhopal, Varanasi and Vadodara. Airport monetisation will fetch Rs 20,782 crore. Housing colonies of airport workers have also been included in the assets to be leased out. The user fees in all these airports will greatly increase, as shown by the experience of privatization of the airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
Other assets to be leased out include 28,000 circuit kilometres of power transmission lines, 2.86 lakh km of BharatNet fiber and 14,917 signal towers of BSNL and MTNL, 8,154 km of natural gas pipelines, warehouses of the Food Corporation of India, two national stadiums and seven residential colonies in Delhi.
Private capitalists will take up a project if and only if they calculate that they can make maximum profits from it. The government will ensure this, by keeping the lease fee low and allowing the private company to charge exorbitant fees from the public. When a company fails to make the expected profits, it will demand that the government should fill the gap.
Workers presently employed in maintaining these infrastructure assets will be threatened with losing their jobs. Private companies will replace them with contract workers who will be forced to work long hours at lowest possible wages, without social security.
The monetisation plan is nothing but another form of privatisation. It deserves to be condemned and opposed by the working class and people.