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CPM doesn’t mind privatisation route to Kolkata airport

Friday 26 May 2006

Express news service

Kolkata/New Delhi, May 25 : Despite the Left’s official stance against privatisation of airports, as evinced by the letter of Sitaram Yechury and others to the PM today, the Front is determined to get the Kolkata airport modernised-even if it means handing it over to a private party.

Nirupam Sen, the state’s Commerce and Industries Minister and the second-most important policymaker in the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya said that the modernisation of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport takes priority over political differences with the UPA government that it backs in Delhi.

“We will not sacrifice modernisation at any cost,” Sen said. “We have told the Centre that the modernisation should be done by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), but if they do not listen to us, we will have to accept the alternative.”

In Delhi, the CPI(M) and the CPI had stridently opposed the UPA government’s decision to hand over the Delhi and Mumbai airports to private companies. Both parties wanted the job to be done by the AAI, which, they say, has enough funds to do it.

However, the UPA government led by the Congress went ahead and handed over the two airports to two separate consortia of Indian and foreign companies.

Today, taking strong exception to comments by Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel that the Joint Venture route was being considered for airports in Kolkata and Chennai, top Left leaders shot off a missive to the PM, demanding an “authoritative policy pronouncement” on the subject in line with the Common Minimum Programme.

CPI(M)’s Prakash Karat, CPI’s A B Bardhan, Forward Bloc’s Debabrata Biswas and RSP’s Abani Roy said: “we have to categorically point out that such a policy orientation is totally unacceptable. We firmly reiterate the need for modernisation of all airports, including Chennai and Kolkata and are convinced that the airports authority of India is capable of executing these projects and they have the technical, operational and financial capability to ensure this”.

But at home, the Left Front appears more practical and pragmatic.

Shortly after his swearing-in, Bhattacharya had backed reforms and private capital. While ruling out support for a hire-and-fire labour policy and foreign direct investment in retail, the CM conceded that the Left had allowed the Centre to proceed with privatisation of the two major airports, despite the long-drawn strike and agitation by the Centre for Indian Trade Unions, the CPI(M)’s labour wing.

On Wednesday, CITU’s state president, Shyamal Chakraborty, seemed to have climbed down a notch.

The airport unions are not affiliated to CITU,” Chakraborty said. “They will decide what kind of agitation they will launch against privatisation. We shall not dictate their stand.”

Sen, when asked about the political differences within the party and the Left as a whole on the issue, pointed out that the privatisation of Delhi and Mumbai is proceeding despite the Left’s protest.

I think they will understand our compulsion,” Sen said. Insiders said the top brass of the state CPI(M) had understood long ago that modernisation of Kolkata airport will not be possible without privatisation.

They pointed out that the Left Front’s manifesto for the Assembly elections, published in February, had demanded that the Union government modernise Kolkata airport. The CPI had sought to amend this statement to make it mandatory for the modernisation to be handed to the AAI. The CPI(M) had rejected this amendment.

See online : The Indian Express

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