The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre loosens grip on opium processing

New Delhi, Nov. 6: India, among the top 11 producers of opium, today decided to allow private players in the processing of the narcotic.

The cabinet took the decision to ease the problem of piling stocks of raw opium on the one hand and large imports of the processed drug due to inadequate domestic processing facilities on the other, parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said.

Stating that the move called for a legislative amendment, she said currently opium processing is under the exclusive control of the Centre and is carried out at only two plants. Now, any private player can apply for a licence to set up an opium-processing unit.

Explaining the dichotomy of huge raw opium reserves, yet high import of the processed drug, she said only 122 tonnes of opium were processed last year against a production of 700 tonnes.

The government also cleared a Rs 675-crore scheme to boost infrastructure in industrial belts. It will provide transport, road, water, power, gas/fuel supply, solid waste disposal, effluent treatment and communication support in select industrial clusters, said an official release issued after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.

To begin with, 20 to 25 clusters with high growth potential will be taken up for development in the 10th Five Year Plan period (2002-07), it said.

The cabinet committee also extended the technology upgrade fund scheme, which offers low interest credit for modernisation of the decentralised powerloom weaving sector, by three years to March 31, 2007. The government will offer small-scale powerloom units an additional option of an incentive of 20 per cent of the cost of modern weaving machinery up to Rs 50 lakh.

But the cabinet deferred approval to an ambitious scheme through a legislation to provide social security to 3.7 crore employees in the unorganised sector.

“The unorganised workers bill is likely to come up in the next cabinet meeting,” Swaraj said. After discussion, it was felt that the bill, cleared by the group of ministers, needed fine-tuning before its introduction in Parliament, the minister said.

“It is only being fine-tuned and the item has been deferred and not rejected. It is a welcome bill and will be taken up in the next cabinet meeting,” the minister added.

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