The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ally mines trouble for Bengal

Calcutta/Ranchi, May 28: With allies like these, Bengal’s political parties may think they do not need enemies.

Coal minister Sibu Soren, on his first triumphant visit home to the Jharkhand capital, announced he was planning to get the Coal India Limited headquarters shifted to Ranchi from Calcutta.

Soren, who received a tumultuous welcome on arrival, however, added that he would have to seek the support of his colleagues from the Left parties which are supporting the United Progressive Alliance at the Centre.

Asked about Soren’s statement, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee declined comment. “Let me first hear it for myself. How can I comment without hearing the details' I can’t comment on the basis of what journalists tell me,” Bhattacharjee said.

Soren admitted that the Left was opposed to the idea of shifting the headquarters as it was in government in Bengal. “But they should realise that it has been a long-pending demand of the people of the region since most of the coal mines are located in Jharkhand. I am hopeful that our communist colleagues will see the reason and respect the sentiments of the people of Jharkhand.”

Sources said the Left parties, with a clout in the Manmohan Singh government that is much beyond that of Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha by way of sheer numbers, are far from being convinced of the need to make the shift.

Asked what he would do if the Left opposed the move, Soren replied: “We got our statehood after a long struggle.”

A Coal India spokesperson said the proposal had not been conveyed to the headquarters yet. A senior company official said: “This is not the first time the proposal to shift the headquarters has been made by a minister. The demand had come even when Karia Munda was the coal minister in the erstwhile NDA government. But we opposed the proposal tooth and nail and we will continue to do it.”

The Coal India headquarters houses, among others, the offices of the chairman and other directors. Departments of personnel, project management, corporate planning and finance are located there, manned by a staff strength of 350.

During NDA rule, too, interests of allies had come into conflict. Nitish Kumar, as railway minister, went ahead with the bifurcation of Eastern and trifurcation of South-eastern Railway — both were headquartered in Calcutta — though Mamata Banerjee had put up strong opposition. Depending on how far Soren will go with his proposal, another embarrassing battle among allies appears on the cards.

Coal India may not be the only one in Soren’s sights. “We have been demanding shifting of Damodar Valley Corporation’s headquarters as well to Ranchi. We are now pondering the issue,” he said when a question was asked.

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