The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Best bet’ Buddha in pension firefight
Bhattacharjee and Singh

New Delhi, Nov. 15: Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today assured Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he would shortly speak to Left-affiliated trade unions to break the impasse over the pension bill.

The Centre is keen to pass the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill in the winter session of Parliament.

“The chief minister assured the Prime Minister that he would do his best for the passage of the bill. He is supportive of the bill,” an official source said.

The government is hoping for a “breakthrough” before or during the winter session, which begins on November 22 and ends on December 19, the source added.

Bhattacharjee, who met Singh before leaving for Calcutta this afternoon, also shared his ideas on police reforms, which he has been working on for a long time.

The chief minister is believed to have welcomed Delhi’s proposal to incorporate an amendment suggested by the Left — that the pension funds of Group C and Group D employees be invested only in government securities and public sector bonds for three years.

Bhattacharjee, government sources said, is the Prime Minister’s “best bet” for a consensus on the bill because like the Centre, the Bengal government’s pension liabilities are huge.

The UPA government believes that while Bhattacharjee enjoys the support of the politburo on the bill, the trade unions are intransigent.

Citu president M.K. Pandhe today iterated the union’s stand. “The Citu has taken a categorical stand to oppose the bill.”

Pandhe said the all-India strike called by the Citu on December 14 was occasioned as much by the demand to uphold IT companies’ right to strike work as by the pension bill. “So, where is the question of giving in on anything'”

At the last UPA-Left coordination committee meeting, talks on the pension bill were grounded with the Left insisting on continuing with the present policy, where 50 per cent of a government employee’s last drawn basic salary is paid as pension.

The government argued that this defeated the entire purpose of reforming the pension system, which is to reduce the burden on the exchequer.

As sparks flew, finance minister P. Chidambaram reminded the Left leaders of Bhattacharjee’s support for the bill and subtly suggested that they give up on their demand for 50 per cent state contribution.

Bhattacharjee does not only have Citu to contend with. Pandhe has teamed up with Gurudas Dasgupta, the general secretary of the CPI’s labour wing, Aituc, to stop the bill in its tracks.

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