The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dispur ire on George

Guwahati, Oct. 14: Dispur today broke its silence on defence minister George Fernandes’ directive to the army on the Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) extortion case, accusing him of “meddling” in its affairs.

Government spokesperson and panchayat and rural development minister Ripun Bora said at a media briefing here that the defence minister’s instruction to the army’s eastern command to investigate the case smacked of “immaturity”.

Fernandes visited Dibrugarh district a few days after HLL disclosed that the Ulfa had demanded Rs 2 crore through an extortion note.

Criticising the defence minister’s reaction to the disclosure, Bora said: “It is quite unfortunate and we strongly condemn it. The army is already operating in the state under the unified command and troops are requisitioned whenever they are required. For that, the defence minister does not have to issue any instruction. It was very immature on his part to do so.”

During his visit to Dibrugarh last weekend, the defence minister told the media that he had instructed the eastern command to look into the HLL case. Dispur did not react to the statement immediately, but Opposition parties such as the AGP and the CPI cried foul. Both parties criticised the Congress government, too, for its silence.

Pointing out that law and order is a state subject, Bora said Dispur would directly ask Fernandes what he told an HLL delegation and officials of the army’s eastern command.

Acting chief minister Bhumidhar Barman was, however, circumspect. He declined to comment on the statement by the Governor, Lt Gen. (retd) Ajay Singh, that the extortion note received by HLL might be the handiwork of miscreants masquerading as members of the Ulfa.

“We do not have any such official word from the governor,” Barman said.

The acting chief minister said the extortion note received by HLL was a “genuine one”. He claimed to have information that two other tea companies, Assam Frontier Company and Williamson Magor, had been served demand notes by the Ulfa.

Barman said adequate security had been provided to HLL executives in Assam.

“Of the HLL gardens in the state, 12 have Assam Tea Plantation Security Force personnel. We have told the Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association (Abita) to arrange for deployment of the tea security force in the remaining gardens,” he added.

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