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India is on track to take its largest state-owned insurer public in March, government official says

A man wearing a protective face mask walks past a Life Insurance Corporation Of India (LIC) branding at a bus stop shelter in Mumbai.
Ashish Vaishnav | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

One of India’s largest planned initial public offerings — that of state-owned Life Insurance Corporation — is on track for March, the country’s revenue secretary told CNBC.

While the size of the float is still not known, a successful IPO for India’s largest insurer could go a long way in helping the government meet its disinvestment targets for the fiscal year that ends on March 31.

“I think at the moment, the idea is to bring it out in March and collect the money also in the month of March,” Tarun Bajaj, India’s revenue secretary, told CNBC’s Tanvir Gill. “I think we will exceed the revised estimate figures which have been mentioned in the budget documents.”

During this week’s budget announcement for the fiscal year starting on April 1, the government set a modest disinvestment target of 650 billion rupees ($8.7 billion). For the current year, it revised down its target from 1.75 trillion rupees to 780 billion rupees.

Bajaj explained that it will not be a “life-and-death issue” if the LIC share sale happens in April instead of March. “We will earn more in the next financial year and I think a lot of resources are needed in the next financial year,” he added.

Local media, citing a public official, reported that the Indian government could file an IPO prospectus for LIC with the Securities and Exchange Board of India by next week, which will divulge more details on the deal size.

Official data showed that in the current fiscal year, the government has so far raised about 120.3 billion rupees in disinvestment — which is still significantly lower than the revised target.

In October, India successfully sold the loss-making national flag carrier Air India to Tata Sons, which is the holding company of one of the country’s largest conglomerates, Tata Group.

Bajaj told CNBC that the government has a number of disinvestment deals in the pipeline that could conclude in the next fiscal year and help it meet the modest 650 billion-rupee target, including Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, Shipping Corporation and the Container Corporation of India.

“If we are able to close these deals, I am sure we will be able to achieve the targets,” he said, adding that New Delhi was looking at strategic disinvestments to finance some of its expenditure.

“Strategic disinvestment is a little complicated, and each of the deals is pretty complex as we have seen in the Air India experience,” he said. “But, with Air India and a few others going through in this current year, we have learned a lot in the process.”

“In the years to come, we should be able to do it much faster, and we will achieve the targets,” he added.

So far, the largest IPO to date in India was Paytm’s $2.5 billion share sale which was about 186 billion rupees, based on current exchange rates.

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