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Congress ministers to visit Haldia

Malda, Nov. 13: A Congress fact-finding team of two newly appointed junior Union ministers will visit Haldia on November 20 following the exit of cargo handler Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) because of the government’s alleged failure to provide security.

Union minister of state for health Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury told reporters here today that he had got a phone call from state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya briefing him about the visit.

The minister added that the Centre was concerned about the exit of HBT and had asked the state Congress to submit a report.

“The development in Haldia is of much concern to the Union government as wrong signals have gone out to investors. Pradip Bhattacharya called me up and told me to accompany a PCC team to Haldia on November 20. Union minister of state for urban development Deepa Das Munshi will also be in the team,” he said.

He added that the visit was because of concerns expressed by the Centre, particularly, Union minister for shipping G.K. Vasan.

“We will take stock of the situation and speak to all stakeholders, including the port authorities. A report will be submitted to Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh after which Delhi will take the necessary steps,” Abu Hasem said. Bhattacharya said Deepa and Abu Hasem had agreed to join the “Haldia chalo” march on November 20. “We will organise a rally to protest the Mamata Banerjee government’s failure to ensure a suitable industrial climate in Bengal,” he said.

About the AIIMS-like institute that the Congress leaders want to build in Raiganj, Abu Hasem said he would write to chief minister Mamata Banerjee asking for time to discuss the matter.

“The Centre is very concerned about the delay in acquiring land for the project. I have spoken to Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and he wants the project to come up and help the state improve the health care infrastructure. There is no use in bickering over matters. We will write to her (Mamata) next week seeking an appointment. We need to talk to her and clear the air before the winter session of Parliament that begins from November 22,” Abu Hasem said.

The minister also criticised the Mamata Banerjee government for not being able to finalise its policy on land. “Unless the state clears its land acquisition policy, no investor will come. All parties should put their heads together and work out on how best to usher in development in the state. For 34 years, investors fled (the state) under the Left Front and even after ousting them, the same atmosphere continues. We, as politicians, will have no answers before the public.”

Abu Hasem added that funds allocated by the Centre for the improvement of health care facilities in Bengal were unutilised and was being returned to Delhi.

“The Union health ministry wants to help the state improve its healthcare system. For that, the state government should co-operate. I want to know the shortcomings and the requirements from Mamata Banerjee, who is in charge of health department. There is a requirement for doctors, modern equipment and better infrastructure to combat crib deaths and deaths from dengue,” Abu Hasem said.

HBT pulled out of Haldia port after the government’s failure to execute a high court order and provide security to its workers following labour unrest.

The mechanised cargo handler had sacked 275 workers in September, saying it was forced to keep a bloated workforce because of political pressure.

HBT employees willing to work were not allowed to do so allegedly by sacked workers, who were apparently backed by the INTTUC. Three company officials were kidnapped last month at gunpoint and sent packing from Haldia.