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Nalco row unites parties in Orissa

Bhubaneswar, Sept. 30: As the Union disinvestment ministry goes ahead with the privatisation of Nalco, all political parties in the state, barring the BJP, have come together to set up hurdles in its way.

The Orissa Assembly, which has been discussing a motion on the Nalco privatisation since Friday, today witnessed emotive speeches by several Opposition leaders, many of whom criticised chief minister Naveen Patnaik for not being able to resist the Centre’s move.

Challenging the chief minister to display his courage by resigning, expelled BJD leader and former minister Nalinikanta Mohanty today told the Assembly that if Patnaik wanted to battle it out with the Centre over Nalco’s privatisation, then all 147 members of the Assembly would back him.

He even said if it was necessary, all the members would tender their resignation in protest against the move. Mohanty said if Nalco’s headquarters were shifted in the wake of privatisation, then the state would lose a great deal of tax revenue.

Nalco, he said, had given the state nearly Rs 730 crore in the past 10 years in sales tax, income tax, electricity dues and other duties. “The chief minister should clarify whether he is pro-privatisation or anti-privatisation,” Mohanty said, demanding a CBI probe into Nalco’s takeover of IAPL from Mukand’s. Mohanty alleged that there had been kickbacks in the takeover.

The chief minister also drew flak from rebel leader Ramakrushna Patnaik, who accused him of hypocrisy. “When Naveen was the Union steel and mines minister, he had permitted 30 per cent disinvestment of the aluminium major. Why is he crying himself hoarse now'” he asked.

, adding that there has been a deliberate conspiracy in Nalco to reduce its profits. The debate will conclude tomorrow after the chief minister replies.

Initiating the discussion on Friday, leader of the Opposition Ramakanta Mishra urged the chief minister to withdraw support to the National Democratic Alliance if privatisation was not stopped.

Supporting the disinvestment move, finance minister Panchanan Kanungo, however, argued that the Centre should retain 51 per cent control over the stake. Janata Dal (Secular) leader Ashok Das alleged that the chief minister was not sincere in his opposition to the privatisation.

However, BJP legislators led by Dharmendra Pradhan said Nalco should be sold off as it may slide into the red in future, as has happened with many public sector units in the past. Pradhan said the company had little chance of making profits in the future in the face of intense competition. “The question we should be asking now is whether the funds to be raised through disinvestment would be used for the state’s development,” he said.

The funds for peripheral development had been misused in the past, with part of the money going towards providing air-conditioners to district collectors in Angul. A white paper on its peripheral development in the past 10 years should be issued, he said.

His party colleague Balgopal Mishra and Prashanta Nanda also supported the privatisation move, citing the instance of Congress-led governments in Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, where privatisation of PSUs is going on.

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