The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia, Left grope in dark

New Delhi, July 1: Sonia Gandhi today gave another shot at persuading Left leaders to accept the proposed divestment from Bhel by arguing that it was necessary to raise money to fund social sector schemes.

The Left has opposed the sale of 10 per cent equity in the government-owned company in the market, saying that it violates the common minimum programme (CMP).

At a meeting with CPM general secretary Prakash Karat and senior CPI leader D. Raja, Sonia told them that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was committed to enacting the national employment guarantee act and raising allocation for education and health.

But if measures such as divestment from Bhel were blocked, the money to finance these commitments would be hard to find.

The argument, earlier tried out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, did not appear to have had any immediate impact on the Left leaders.

Karat said: “The CMP makes a distinction between navratnas and (other) PSUs. In the case of navratnas, the government cannot dispose of their shares.”

Navratnas are nine top public sector units, of which Bhel is one. “They (navratnas) can make an independent decision to raise money from the market. But the resources should be ploughed back to the company and cannot go to a government fund,” Karat added.

Last Sunday, the Left suspended its participation from the co-ordination committee formed with the UPA, accusing it of CMP violation.

The CMP says: “The UPA will retain existing navratna companies in the public sector while they raise resources from the capital market.”

Congress sources said both sides remained firm in their viewpoints at the meeting ' Karat insisted that Bhel could not be treated as other public sector units and the Congress refused to make a distinction.

“We will consider whatever proposal the government brings before us,” Karat said.

He was confident of resolving the stalemate shortly, but stuck to the stand that Bhel was non-negotiable. The Congress indicated that the next meeting could take place on Monday.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “There were detailed discussions with the Left. They were good enough to accept Sonia’s invitation.” He too was confident of a resolution.

It was not clear how. There is a view that a partial rollback of the decision, which would mean divestment of an amount lower than the proposed 10 per cent, but Karat indicated that the Left would not accept any sale of shares in navratnas.

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