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CPM struggles to find railway slot

New Delhi, Aug. 31: The CPM has not been offered a slot on the parliamentary panels on finance and the railways, both crucial to its politics, for the first time in two decades because successive poll setbacks have left it with fewer MPs.

The Left party’s imminent elimination from the two committees comes in the middle of a tussle over reorganisation of the parliamentary panel mandated to handle the Lokpal bill.

All parliamentary committees are being restructured. But for the first time since the early 1990s, a government letter asking various parties to nominate members to such panels has not offered the CPM a slot on the committees dealing with finance and the railways.

The CPM, commensurate with its strength of 16 MPs in the Lok Sabha, has been asked to nominate one member each for 15 of the total 24 parliamentary panels barring the ones on finance and the railways.

The party has given names for the 15 panels and sent a request saying its 16th MP should be given a place in the committee on the railways.

“We have nominated members for the 15 panels offered to us. We have also nominated one member for the standing committee on the railways. Let’s see whether the government accepts it,” said Basudeb Acharya, the CPM’s leader in the Lok Sabha.

The struggle to get a place in the two committees comes a few years after the party lost the chairmanship of the committee on the railways.

The DMK’s T.R. Baalu replaced Acharya in 2009 after then railway minister Mamata Banerjee reportedly objected to the panel being headed by a key rival leader.

Acharya, a nine-time MP, had a long association with the railways panel, having headed it since 1996-97. He was nominated again in 2004. But even after Acharya’s exit in 2009, the CPM had found a place on the panel and nominated Ram Chandra Dom. Dom remains a member but might loose the slot if the CPM’s plea for a berth is rejected.

Of the 24 panels, 16 are headed by Lok Sabha members and eight by Rajya Sabha MPs. The CPM’s Acharya heads the panel on agriculture while his Rajya Sabha colleague Sitaram Yechury chairs the committee on transport, tourism and culture.

Yechury was the only CPM leader elected to the Rajya Sabha from Bengal in last month’s polls, over two months after the Left’s Assembly election rout.

The CPM is likely to retain the top posts in the agriculture and tourism committees. But that is unlikely to be a consolation for the loss of the railways panel where the CPM wants to take on the current minister, Trinamul’s Dinesh Trivedi.

In the committee on finance, the CPM and CPI have one member each from the Lok Sabha and the CPM has a second one from the Rajya Sabha. The Left members oppose key economic reform bills before the committee. “The voice of dissent will vanish,” said a CPM leader.

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