M A I N   N E W S

Sonia non-committal on economic package
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, November 10
Assuring cooperation to accelerate the pace of development in the hill state, Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, today asserted that the UPA government at the Centre would not discriminate against any state on political consideration.

Addressing a rally at the Ridge after laying the foundation stone of the Congress Bhawan, here, she said the Congress-ruled states were handed out a raw deal during the NDA regime but the UPA government would ensure a fair deal to all. The Congress government in Himachal was denied adequate support while the NDA was in power at the Centre, she said. Refusing to comment on the state’s request for an economic package, She said there should not be any worry as it would be given all possible assistance by the Manmohan Singh government.

She said there was tremendous potential for the development of hydel power and tourism but it had to be harnessed without harming the environment. She said she was glad to know that the government had taken measures to preserve the forest cover on the fragile hills. Himachal was ahead of most other states in the matter of development but much more was needed to be done, she said.

She was uncharacteristically fluent in Hindi. Talking about the relationship of the Nehru family with the hill state, she recalled that Indira Gandhi wanted to make Himachal her permanent abode after retiring from active politics.

Recalling how the Congress came to power much to the dismay of the NDA, Mrs Gandhi said not only was a new UPA alliance formed with ease, but a common minimum programme (CMP) was also finalised in no time.

The UPA had come to power at a time when the people had been disillusioned with the performance of the NDA regime. The people had great expectations which would be fulfilled by implementing the CMP, she said.

Recalling the “vichar manthan shivir” held here in May last year, she said the strategy worked out during the conclave had been successful and the party had been able to oust the NDA.

Earlier, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, made a strong plea for granting an economic package to tide over the financial crisis plaguing the state. He said the state had been facing financial hardships as it inherited empty coffers and a debt of over Rs 15,000 crore from the BJP regime. He also pleaded the state’s case for 25 per cent equity share in the Parbati and Kol Dam projects on the pattern of the Nathpa Jhakri project. He said the state had a potential to generate 21,000 MW of power which was its main resource. However, it could benefit by harnessing it only if it had a reasonable share in it.

He also talked about the efforts being made by his government to provide employment and speed up development. He said over 4,000 new units had been approved to create job opportunities for over one lakh persons in the industrial sector.

Ms Vidya Stokes, the Pradesh Congress Committee chief, also urged Mrs Gandhi to help the state secure an economic package.

Mr Anand Sharma, spokesperson for the All-India Congress Committee, said the BJP had so far failed to reconcile to the fact that it had been ousted from power by a Congress-led alliance and it was unable to assume its new role as a responsible opposition.

Mr Harbhajan Singh, MLA, also sought financial support for Shimla.

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