Friday, March 9, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Balco rocks LS, RS again
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 8
The Balco issue rocked Parliament again today as the Government came in for sharp criticism from the Opposition in both the Houses for moving the Supreme Court on a sensitive issue of Centre-State relations without taking the Chhattisgarh state into confidence.

Heated exchanges were witnessed in both the Houses between the Opposition, led mainly by the Congress and the Left parties and the Treasury Benches over the issue during the zero hour.

While the CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee accused the Government in the Lok Sabha of taking recourse to judiciary to go ahead with its “sinister disinvestment policy” and destabilise the constitutional equilibrium, in the Rajya Sabha, Congress leader Arjun Singh termed the Government action as a disgrace and that the Vajpayee Government did not deserve to be in power.

Defending the Government move, the Disinvestment Minister, Mr Arun Shourie, said there were alarming reports that water and electricity to the Balco plant would be cut, management would not be allowed to enter the state as also that a law and order situation would be created by burning an ambulance and damaging a CISF van.

Countering the Opposition charge of not consulting the state government, Mr Shourie said that the Disinvestment Secretary had written to the Chhattisgarh Chief Secretary about the disturbing reports and possibility of damage to the plant, but had not received any response.

In the Rajya Sabha, he said that the action was necessitated because of the statements of certain Chhattisgarh leaders giving moral support to the striking workers.

When the Opposition protested the minister naming the leaders, Chairman Krishan Kant directed Mr Shourie not to refer to the state government as rules demanded he should first give notice before naming them.

The issue was first raised by CPM members, Mr Nilatpol Basu and Mr Dipankar Mukherjee, who charged the government with moving the Supreme Court on behalf of a private partner Sterlite Industries, to “throttle the legitimate rights of workers”.

“We condemn the action and demand a statement from the government”, they said. Joining the CPM members, Mr Suresh Pachouri (Congress) said this was a serious issue.

On an urgent interim application moved by the Centre before a two-member Bench of the Supreme Court, the apex court directed the state government not to disconnect water, electricity and food supplies to the plant.

The Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police in particular are directed to ensure that workers and the management are not in any way intimidated or prevented from willingly going to work in the plant.

Mr Shourie said it was not true that government had moved court on behalf of the private partner and added that the Centre still had 49 per cent equity in Balco and if the smelter plant was shut even for a day, it would result in a loss of Rs 100 crore in restarting it, of which Rs 49 crore would have to be borne by the government.

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