The government may not fully exit from the two state-run banks that are to be privatised and instead retain at least a 26% stake for the first few years. A senior official said the extent of the stake sale will depend on interest from investors and market conditions.

The government will introduce a bill in the winter session of parliament to make the changes needed before privatising the two banks. The Central Bank of India and Indian Overseas Bank have reportedly been shortlisted by Niti Aayog for disposal. However, a final decision is yet to be taken.

“The upcoming bill will clear decks for regulatory approvals required for privatisation of two PSBs (public sector banks) but we may like to retain some stake and dilute it at a later stage,” the official said, reasoning that the government may like to cash in on the upside in valuation after the stake sale.

A similar strategy is being pursued in the case of state-run BEML (formerly Bharat Earth Movers Ltd), where the government is divesting 26% equity along with management control of the Bengaluru-based company. The government has a 54.03% stake in the company. “The required changes in the (banking) laws have been vetted by the law ministry. We will soon take it to the cabinet so that it can be taken up by parliament,” said the official cited above.

The Banking Laws Amendment Bill, 2021, will make changes to the Banking Companies Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings Act, 1970 and 1980, and incidental amendments to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.

“In case of IDBI Bank as well we have said that the extent of respective shareholding to be divested will be decided at the time of structuring of transaction in consultation with the Reserve Bank of India,” said another official aware of developments. IDBI Bank is also on the government’s asset-sale list.

He said parallel consultations are on with the banking regulator, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), for relaxations in ownership and management criteria. These are aimed at allowing the banks being divested to make room for a wider pool of bidders such as non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) that are owned by corporate groups.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the privatisation of two state-run banks as part of the government’s disinvestment programme in her February budget speech. “Other than IDBI Bank, we propose to take up the privatisation of two public sector banks and one general insurance company in the year 2021-22,” she had said.


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