The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CM tests tarmac, party yet to check in

New Delhi, Dec. 13: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is not against “looking at” the Prime Minister’s proposal to use private capital to modernise Calcutta airport, but his party is not yet convinced.

The Bengal chief minister today made it clear that a pending proposal to use private funds for the modernisation would have to be looked into.

“A proposal is pending about public-private partnership for modernisation. We will have to look at it' I have already spoken to the Prime Minister about it,” Bhattacharjee, in Delhi for his party’s politburo meeting, said.

Manmohan Singh had said in Kuala Lumpur yesterday that modernisation plans for Calcutta and Chennai airports through public-private partnership would be considered after Mumbai and Delhi airports are taken care of.

During his Singapore visit in August, Bhattacharjee had said that he ' and his party ' wanted the modernisation of existing ports and airports to be carried out under a “public-private partnership”. The CPM is not against modernisation but the party has been saying of late that it is against the use of private capital for the upgrade. The CPM’s stand seems to be a reflection of its hesitation to publicly contradict Citu, which has a huge constituency among airport employees.

Bhattacharjee does not appear to share his party’s reservations. Asked the “route” to modernisation of the airport, he said: “We will have to see which is the best model.”

This is in contrast to the stand taken by his party and its labour arm Citu. Last month, leaders of four Left parties, including CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, had told the Prime Minister as much.

“The entire workforce of Airports Authority of India (AAI) under a joint forum, including engineers, architects and professionals, has been strongly opposing this route of modernisation through privatisation,” they said in a letter on privatisation of Mumbai and Delhi airports.

The Left has suggested a different route for mobilisation of funds through internal resources.

“In the absence of a consensus on this issue, the government should immediately speed up the modernisation plan submitted by the airport employees,” the letter said.

The Left has stressed that the AAI has been consistently earning a profit and has a reserve of Rs 2,500 crore. Citu wants modernisation only through the AAI.

Bhattacharjee’s stand could open another flank for confrontation with Citu which is already up in arms over the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority Bill.

The chief minister beamed when told about the praise the Prime Minister showered on Bengal yesterday.

Singh had termed his government a “forward looking” one that was creating a “first class” environment for investment.

“Yes, I have read reports of what the Prime Minister had to say,” he said.

The CPM’s politburo meeting will be followed by a central committee meeting.

Politburo member Sitaram Yechury said they would discuss, among other issues, the pension fund bill and the cut in employees provident fund interest rate.

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