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On Left plate: PSU dessert

New Delhi, Sept. 23: A cabinet meeting next Wednesday is expected to approve a board for restructuring public sector undertakings, a persistent demand of the Left.

Finance minister P. Chidambaram has assured the party that the board would not have representatives of 'big business' but retired chairpersons of PSUs, heads of nationalised banks and economists, CPI leader A.B. Bardhan said.

Over dinner last night, Chidambaram unfurled before his guests ' Bardhan and his colleague D. Raja ' the government's proposed measures to fulfil the commitments in the common minimum programme.

The finance minister assured the CPI leaders that the government would not rush through its proposal to raise the cap on foreign direct investment in telecommunications.

'He said the government will first respond to the Left's note outlining its objections to FDI in telecom,' said Bardhan. The four Left parties have given a note explaining their stand against the increase.

Yesterday, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had said after a luncheon meeting with the finance minister and CPM leaders Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury that there was 'no urgency' on the government's part to ease foreign investment restrictions.

Chidambaram assured the CPI leaders that the government has no intention of ignoring the common code. As proof of the commitment, he spoke of a subject dear to the Left's heart ' restructuring of PSUs.

The Left parties ' opposed to dismantling of PSUs and divestment ' have been insisting on a board that will examine the status of the units and revive them where possible.

Chidambaram said the new board would look at all four categories of PSUs ' the navratnas, those making profit, those that can be turned around and those that are bankrupt.

The board would function under minister of state for heavy industries Santosh Mohan Deb.

'The finance ministry at the top will coordinate among the various ministries concerned with restructuring of PSUs,' said Bardhan.

The finance minister also said the government is considering setting up an investment commission ' another long-standing Left demand ' which will pave the way for investments in both public and private sectors. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a similar announcement in New York yesterday.

With his promises and proposals, Chidambaram, at least for the time being, seems to have placated the Left.

He said the government's initial worry over the possibility of bad monsoon and drought has receded and agricultural production would match last year's. He was also confident of containing a rise in the consumer price index.

'He told us if necessary, the government will make more import and excise duty cuts,' said Bardhan.

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