In his latest op-ed, “The feeding frenzy of kleptocracy“, Shri Sainath himself showed signs of kleptomania by robbing me of my mental peace by his arbitrary, irrational and unreasonable exhortations. He attempts to sway the public debate towards his version of “corporate welfare” bestowed by government on private sector but fails to look within before announcing his discomfort and displeasure.

The coveted author has been loyal to his service provider- MTNL- Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (as flaunted by his email id) by not disclosing to the public the thousands of crores of public money that it sinks every year by the very virtue of its existence. It posted an enviable 4100 Cr loss last fiscal and is slated to make another 4800 Cr loss this year. The corporation, barely able to hold its navratna status, last made a profit in 2008-09 and has since then made a cumulative loss of Rs. 14,321 Cr. This colossal waste astoundingly is 21% of the revenue foregone (Rs. 68,008 Cr) for the ENTIRE corporate industry under the Corporate Income Tax head in the proposed budget.

The two city “public” corporation MTNL has achieved numerous feats in delivering with efficiency. Consider this, 41,611 employees are on its payrolls, all surviving on public money. In contrast, Airtel, having more than 10 times the size of its operations spread across diverse geographical locations with businesses in several different verticals, manages to deliver by employing only half that number- 22,000.

And, lest we forget how such an organisation continues to survive, we must genuflect in reverence of its selfless service rendered to the”kleptocratic” government which it counts as its biggest customer. Coupled with its blessings, the government honoured this devotion by offering 3G licenses to MTNL six months ahead of conducting an auction for private players giving a first mover advantage by design. Much to the chagrin of its promoter- H.E. the President of India, MTNL squandered the opportunity and failed to make any use of its six month lead and now plans to auction its spectrum to private players which is a privilege reserved for only “public” corporations.

On the other side of the fence, the government, in its own way of recognising efficiency recently penalised Airtel Rs. 350 Cr for entering into 3G roaming pacts in circles it didn’t own the spectrum. A move, that Shri Sainath is bound to appreciate since it would rein in our fiscal deficit and help finance our ambitious food security bill which would improve our malnutrition levels which to his immense disgust are even poorer than sub-Saharan Africa. Albeit, only if one digs deeper and looks at the standards for malnutrition that have been defined, would one able to poke holes like Dr. Arvind Panagariya has by showcasing his research to debunk the myths that have enamoured many.

The government to finance its profligacy, in addition to penalising the rich at a higher rate could just take out time from its leisurely schedule and shake the dust off its latest Public Enterprises Survey and take a customary glance. It would reveal that the government could have fetched Rs. 27, 602 Cr in 2011-12 by just managing to avoid losses in enterprises under its management, which is in fact 45% of the revenue foregone owing to the welfare bestowed to the corporate sector in the form of income tax waiver.

I would be watching in astonishment if Shri Sainath captures this side of the untold story in his next nerve rattling column.

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Abhishek Bhattacharya

A libertarian by orientation, Abhishek Bhattacharya is a former LAMP Fellow and presently works at Centre for Civil Society- a free market think tank. His ideas and writings reflect the interplay of Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Connect with him at @tathast_manush / abhi.bh.in@gmail.com

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