The government is battling crisis on several fronts, a sputtering economy, soaring crude oil prices and inflation amongst others. One of the biggest concerns is the spiraling fiscal deficit. The central government has found it tough to rein in the deficit given the high spending on fuel subsidies and social welfare programmes, coupled with heavy borrowing and low collection through taxes. Though the government believed that its disinvestment programme would help tide over the cash crunch to an extent, the plan has not panned out as per expectations.
In order to get the fiscal situation under control, the government is using Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and other public sector undertakings (PSUs) to fill its cash kitty. LIC of India has come to the Government's rescue repeatedly in the recent past. It bought shares in state-owned banks in 2009. In 2010, it bought the government's stake in a mining firm. This time, it is injecting a billion dollars into some state banks. It has also bought out part of the government's stake in an oil firm. It held 4% stake in 34 PSUs in December 2008. This increased to 5.6% stake in 42 PSUs at the end of 2011.
LIC's role was highlighted in the recent ONGC episode. The insurance company invested more than Rs 150 bn in ONGC this quarter, which includes the shares divested by the Government recently. It is also planning to infuse Rs 78 bn into public sector banks in the coming months. The insurance giant is however not showing a similar preference for private sector companies. Its stake in private companies has more or less remained the same.
In the middle of all the drama, perhaps the biggest losers from the government's arm-twisting of LIC are the policyholders of LIC's insurance contract. They might have lost 25% of the value of their investments so far in government-owned businesses