One of the defining debates, post the Great Recession (2007-2009), was on the greater need for government intervention in free markets. Indian public sector enterprises, nevertheless, feel limited because of Article 12 of the Constitution, which mandates government control. C.S. Verma, Chairman of Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), said to remain competitive public sector companies need more autonomy. Ownership, he indicated, ought to be separate from management of these companies. He was speaking at a panel discussion on the "The business of public enterprise, the winning formula" at the India Today PSUs Awards, held in New Delhi on August 21. His views resonated with other panellists - B.C. Tripathi, CMD of GAIL, and U.D. Choubey, Director General of the Standing Conference of Public Enterprises, the apex body of PSUs.
Choubey stressed the need for an ownership policy that defines the commitment of the owner to the board in PSUs. Currently, there is no ownership policy in India. Constitution of the board and the responsibility of independent directors are also issues the public sector is grappling with. Tripathi stressed that PSUs operate in a competitive market today. "Our field is global. We compete with both public and private enterprises. The multi-layered control in the public sector is a hindrance to free and fast decision-making," he said. GAIL, he added, had to report to 10 different committees that has people with different agenda and background. Given these challenges, it is indeed commendable that some PSUs remain competitive, contribute to the country's employment needs and the exchequer in terms of direct and indirect tax collections.
Shekhar Gupta, Vice Chairman and Editor-in-chief of The India Today Group, explained why India Today constituted the PSUs Awards. "PSUs are special companies. If anybody knows how to run a business in the public sector, he can run a business anywhere in the world," he said. There are multiple levels of audits, sifarish, threats. "It is tough even if you are a monopoly," he said. Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, gave away the awards. In his keynote address, he stressed the need for a balanced economy where the welfare state plays a key role.
PSUs were awarded in eight categories - Best Global Presence Award, Most Eco-Friendly, Best in CSR, Best in R&D innovation, Best in HR practices, Fastest Growing, Most Valuable and Best Performing. The event was sponsored by real-estate firm Grihapravesh, Oil India and GAIL.