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“Government must share why Hindustan Zinc’s shares were disinvested”, Prashant Bhushan in Supreme Court

In 2016, the Supreme Court Bench led by then Chief Justice TS Thakur had directed the Central Government to maintain status quo on the proposed disinvestment of the public sector undertaking Hindustan Zinc Limited.

Sanya Talwar

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant today heard a petition challenging the disinvestment of Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL).

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of the National Confederation of Officers Association, submitted that the veracity of the disinvestment could not be doubted as he had received this information via reply to an RTI application filed before the Department of Legal Affairs.

This information opined that 50% of the shares of HZL were disinvested and sold to Vedanta, which according to Bhushan had only been done by the Government to fill their pockets.

This change in the innate character of a public company to an ordinary company was not permissible in light of the provisions contained in the Metal Corporation Act, 1976, Bhushan argued.

He also contended that the Information officer had shared incomplete information in reply to the RTI.

They told me what they had done but not the reasons! I don’t know how this Government is functioning.
Bhushan argued
Calm down Mr. Bhushan, this is a Court, not Jantar Mantar!
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta interjected

At this juncture, CJI Bobde observed that a policy decision by the Government could not have been decided over an RTI exchange. The CJI also noted that the Information Officer could not share reasons. They were only bound to share the information.

“They can only tell you ‘the what’, not ‘the why’”

CJI SA Bobde

The CJI stated that the matter must be decided after hearing both parties at length and an interim order cannot be passed in matters of policy.

While praying for an early date, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Vedanta, added that there was no reason for the present writ to continue as the disinvestment had already occurred two decades back. Moreover, he added that the Government could not be disallowed to sell its stake.

Rohatgi argued that a CBI Inquiry regarding this disinvestment had also taken place and it had already been closed.

“Look at Air India, it is bleeding. Government is willing to sell its stake", said Rohatgi.

“But it's wrong Mr. Rohatgi. It's wrong if it's against the policies”, CJI Bobde observed.

The Court proceeded to adjourn the matter.

In 2016, the Supreme Court Bench led by then Chief Justice TS Thakur had directed the Central Government to maintain status quo on the proposed disinvestment of the public sector undertaking Hindustan Zinc Limited. This had restricted the Government from initiating any process of further disinvestment of its shares.

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