Friday, March 2, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Parliament nod to Balco deal
LS rejects Opposition motion

New Delhi, March 1
Parliament tonight approved the controversial Balco deal, giving a boost to the Vajpayee government’s disinvestment policy with the Opposition-sponsored motion being rejected in the Lok Sabha.

The motion, moved by CPM member Rupchand Paul and supported by the Congress and the entire Opposition, was defeated by 239 to 119 votes with three abstaining, after a spirited defence by Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie of the Balco deal with Sterlite Industries for the transfer of 51 per cent shares.

Mr Shourie rubbished allegations levelled by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi about payoffs in the deal to any officials in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The government had already braved the Opposition assault on the controversial deal in the Rajya Sabha.

A row had erupted, soon after the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment had approved the Balco sale of majority shares to the Mumbai-based Sterlite group for a price of Rs 551.50 crore. The Opposition had alleged the profit-making primary producers of aluminium were being sold at a price far less than its actual worth.

The Opposition had alleged proper valuation of the property and assets of the public sector unit was not done and it was being sold cheap.

They also demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the alleged malpractices in the deal.

Mr Shourie described as rubbish the allegation made by some Opposition members that the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) had taken a Rs 100 crore bribe in the Balco deal and said at no stage was it involved in the transaction.

“At no stage did anybody from the PMO ring me or inquire about the deal. Nor did he (Mr Vajpayee) enquire about the bid,” Mr Shourie said.

While chiding Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi for his allegations of corruption in the disinvestment of Balco, Mr Shourie challenged him to produce documentary evidence against officials involved in corruption so that action could be taken against them.

“Why wait for the JPC, let Jogi name these officials involved in the deal. We will take action,” he added.

He said the Chief Minister was making wild allegations in “protected places” (legislature). Otherwise, he would face the consequences for such baseless allegations.

He said it was a group of officials who processed the Balco case. No one else was involved.

Mr Shourie also claimed the Chief Ministers of, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were actively involved in the disinvestment process. In fact, both Mr Jogi and Mr Digvijay Singh were helpful in the “whole process”.

The minister said his ministry was in constant touch with the Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh governments over this issue. The Secretary, Disinvestment, had written a series of letters to the state governments in this regard.

“It is with their full cooperation that the process of disinvestment was done.”

However, he expressed surprise about the volte-face, stating “complete transparency was maintained’ while taking a final decision on Balco.”

He ridiculed the Chief Minister for threatening to stop power supply and water to the plant. If power was stopped to Balco, it would result in damage to the furnace, causing huge financial loss.

Mr Shourie said the CAG had been entrusted with the job to undertake an audit of disinvestment transactions on a case-by-case basis. Every document regarding disinvestment would be given to the CAG.

Giving details of the entire process, the minister said there were five bidders for Balco, including three from foreign countries. But in the end only two bidders were left.

Referring to CPM leader Somnath Chaterjee’s demand to go for rebidding, the minister quoted the Supreme Court judgement which clearly stated that “once the process starts, any change may vitiate it.” He said the process of disinvestment was going on for almost two years. UNI

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