"Asset monetisation is ultimately aimed at achieving a multiplier impact on growth and employment and reviving credit flow." - NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant
Smt Nirmala Sitharaman, the Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs announced a comprehensive asset monetisation pipeline of the public sector entities and the Central ministries. Titled the National Monetisation Pipeline, it has been developed by the NITI Aayog in consultation with infrastructure line ministries.
The NMP anticipates cumulative monetisation potential to the tune of Rs 6.0 lakh crores via core assets of the Central Government, over a four-year stretch, from FY 2022 to FY 2025. The vital aim of the programme, as affirmed, is to unlock the advantage of investments in brownfield public sector assets by penetrating institutional and long-term patient capital, which can further aid in enhancing supplementary public investments. Here, brownfield assets refer to land that has been used previously but is now lying vacant or unused and in general, is under-utilised. The idea is to bring about a focussed paradigm shift in infrastructure operations, augmentation and maintenance by leasing state-owned assets (not land) for a limited period.
The National Monetisation Plan traces its roots to the 2021-22 Union Budget. It placed extensive weight on asset monetisation as an innovative alternative mechanism to raise revenue for infrastructure. Asset monetisation refers to the system of realising the true worth of investment executed in government assets that have not generated suitable or substantial returns so far.
The stretched Government finances owing to the massive economic bump dealt by Covid are perhaps the dominant stimulators for such an unconventional mechanism's construction. Public welfare measures necessitate funding, especially when the government is on the back foot due to the onus of propping up economic activity at this crucial juncture. Simultaneously, the current decline in the risk appetite of private developers/ equity investors and debt financiers restrain private ventures in greenfield infrastructure. With the fiscal deficit already strained, the government had to oblige and, therefore, find alternative ways to shore up its accounts.
History is a testament to the case that whenever the government advances or even deems divestment of state-owned entities, it confronts allegations of selling off the family silver. The NMP, on the other hand, advocates for the realisation of the apt value from idle assets without the Centre shifting ownership of state assets to private players.
The central government has reemphasised that NMP at no point is concerned with the sale of public assets. It does not regard either privatisation or disinvestment. The project intends on offering infrastructure assets that will persist in the government's ownership following a long-term concession contract to enthusiastic private bidders.
The description of the NMP states that funds raised will be essentially utilised for infrastructure formulation under the National Infrastructure Pipeline, declared in December 2019. Private entities will manage said assets following systemised bidding for a stated period, subsequent to which they will be returned to the governmental jurisdiction.
The administration maintains that the programme's efficiency will be sustained through a clear strategic fundamental policy and regulatory interventions. These will entail streamlining operational modalities, boosting investor participation and expediting commercial efficiency, among many more. Real-time monitoring will be the top priority and secured through the soon to be operational asset monetisation dashboard, as envisioned under Union Budget 2021-22.
The Finance Ministry and the nation's Premier Think Tank deem NMP to be essential for generating employment opportunities and thus tapping into possibilities of facilitating high economic growth and seamlessly blending of the rural and semi-urban areas for more all-embracing civic progress.
The assets to be monetised on the NMP list incorporate 26,700 km of roads, railway stations, train operations and tracks coupled with 2,8608 Ckt km worth of power transmission lines, 6 GW of hydroelectric and solar power assets, 2.86 lakh km of fibre assets. As many as 14,917 towers in the telecom sector, 8,154 km of natural gas pipelines and 3,930 km of petroleum product pipelines have also advanced to the list. Significant development has already taken place in the roadways sector, with the government already monetising 1,400 km of national highways worth Rs 17,000 crore. Additionally, five separate assets have been monetised through a PowerGrid InvIT, drawing about Rs 7,700 crore.
Furthermore, 15 railway stations, 25 airports and the stake of the central government in enduring airports and 160 coal mining projects, 31 projects in 9 major ports, 210 lakh MT of warehousing assets, two national stadia and two regional centres will be permitted for monetisation.
The triumph of the NMP is by no means assured. Among the key challenges that the implementing agencies might struggle against include enigma in distinguishing revenues streams in multiple assets, degree of capacity utilisation in gas and petroleum pipeline channels, adequate dispute resolution mechanism, controlled tariffs in power sector assets, and feeble enthusiasm amidst investors in national highways below four lanes. The other chief hindrances to the monetisation process are asset-specific challenges. While the government undoubtedly has endeavoured to resolve manifold of them in the NMP framework, it remains to be seen how near the government can actually get to its plan of ₹6-lakh crore since the complete project requires flawless execution.
According to the planners, the prime goal of this project is to facilitate Infrastructure Creation through Monetisation. The idea is to empower an ecosystem wherein the public and private sectors cooperate, each outshining in their focus areas of proficiency, to achieve socio-economic growth and quality of life for the country’s citizens.
Written by Gaurav Chakraborty
Edited by Mehak Vohra