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Left threatens war on PF, Singh cool

New Delhi, Dec. 9: The CPM today warned of an “imminent confrontation” with the Centre after Manmohan Singh refused to make any promises to restore the employees provident fund interest rate to 9.5 per cent.

“If the government does not delink social security instruments from market principles, a battle, a confrontation is imminent,” CPM leader Nilotpal Basu threatened.

Opening the Indian Labour Conference today, the Prime Minister said he would discuss the rate cut with the labour ministry, but a solution would have to be found within the resources of the EPF board.

“All I can say at the moment is that I will have to discuss the matter with the labour ministry and examine it to see what can be done within the existing resources of the EPF organisation,” Singh said to howls of protest from labour leaders.

Trade unions had erupted on Wednesday itself after the EPF board recommended a one percentage point cut in interest rates for this fiscal, saying it was in no position to keep paying subscribers more than it earned.

A ballistic Basu termed the Prime Minister’s approach “unacceptable”. Asked how the Left proposed to “confront” the Centre, he said: “We will decide when the time comes.”

Left parties and affiliated trade unions have already lined up a rally tomorrow to press their demand. They have also threatened to launch a nationwide agitation if the government does not come around.

“There are ways of working out solutions. But if nothing is done, a confrontation is imminent. We are not supporting this government so that they can continue with the neo-liberal policies of the NDA,” Basu said.

He claimed that all parties were with the Left on EPF. “We had everybody in Parliament opposing this decision yesterday. The government is accountable to Parliament. They cannot ignore the opinion in the House.”

Basu said he was glad Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma had conceded there was a need to seriously consider the issue. “But we are warning them, we will not stay quiet.”

Another CPM leader, Basudeb Acharia, said the Centre seemed to be following in the footsteps of the NDA. “The erstwhile NDA regime had reduced the rate from 12 to 9.5 per cent. This government is pursuing the same economic strategy.”

Finance minister P. Chidambaram was non-committal. “It was a decision taken by the EPF organisation. The minutes has not reached me.”

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