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CPM puts pressure on ally for IISCO

Durgapur, March 28: A day after the Centre moved a cabinet note to clear the way for the merger of Indian Iron and Steel Company (IISCO) with SAIL, the CPM, an ally in Delhi, threatened an agitation if the union did not come about in six months.

Basudeb Acharya, a CPM parliamentarian and a prominent member of the IISCO Bachao Committee, said the merger was a 'long-pending' demand for the revival of the Burnpur unit of the steel plant, about 45 km from here.

'The Centre announced the merger of IISCO with SAIL last September, but no positive steps are being taken by the ministry concerned thereafter. We have urged the Union government to move ahead with it and fast.'

If the much-awaited merger does not come about in six months, Acharya said: 'We will launch a largescale agitation and fight tooth-and-nail in support of the demand.'

The agitation would be staged 'in the state as well as the Centre', where the CPM is backing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

However, the steel ministry in its note ' also sent to the Prime Minister's Office ' has said the Centre will not spend money on the merger, meaning it will turn down requests to help IISCO clean up its debts.

SAIL, on its part, will have to ensure prompt technology upgrade to make the Burnpur plant viable.

The Centre was initially hesitant about the merger, but steel minister Ram Vilas Paswan met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers' Buildings last September and announced Delhi's decision to merge the two.

Five months down the line, employees as well as the save-IISCO forum are getting increasingly impatient.

Acharya said the CPM was optimistic. 'We are hopeful of the merger in the coming months. The Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) has already agreed to it.'

The Citu leaders here can only wait and watch. 'We want the merger as soon as possible because it would lead to modernisation and increase in production. The employees will feel secure once IISCO becomes part of the SAIL family,' said Chandrasekhar Banerjee, a Citu leader and member of the save-IISCO committee.

Banerjee said the employees at Burnpur were scared after the Kulti unit of the company ' near Asansol ' was closed down early last year. 'With Paswan's announcement of a merger last September, the employees in Burnpur got a new lease of life.'

The union leaders believe the time is perfect for the merger as steel prices are soaring. They have shot up about 250 per cent over the past two years and IISCO, which turned in a Rs 27 crore profit last fiscal after 30 years, could double its profit now.

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