IN FEBRUARY THE administration of Narendra Modi trumpeted a sweeping plan to privatise India’s corporate jewels. Past governments have made such promises with little to show for it. Yet this time investors’ ears perked up. Covid-19 had drained public coffers by crushing the private economy while piling costly burdens on the public sector. In India’s business circles hope flickered of an economic reset that might complete the fitful liberalising project that began 30 years ago in response to another economic crisis.
After months of silence, on August 23rd the finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, finally spoke up. The goal, she said, was to raise $81bn, or 3% of GDP, over four years. But rather than doing so through outright sales, the transactions will be more complex—and less transformative as a result. The Indian state will liquidate small minority stakes in a few airports. Other big assets are expected to be leased to investors for up to 25 years. “Monetisation of core infrastructure assets”, Ms Sitharaman intoned, “does not mean selling the assets.”
The assets not being sold include 42,300km of power lines, 26,700km of highways, 8,200km of natural-gas pipelines, 400 railway stations, 150 trains, 160 coal-mining projects, 25 airports and stakes in nine ports. In this half-hearted divestment strategy Mr Modi seems to…