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Rediff.com  » Business » Chatterjee out, Mitra gets additional charge of Bengal's industry ministry

Chatterjee out, Mitra gets additional charge of Bengal's industry ministry

December 27, 2013 08:25 IST

While it was no secret that Mamata was upset with Patha Chatterjee for a while as he has hardly been successful in bringing any big-ticket investment, there is a strong buzz that it was the controversy over the HPL bid that finally influenced her decision.


In a major cabinet reshuffle in West Bengal, state finance minister Amit Mitra has been handed the additional charge of the industry ministry, replacing Partha Chatterjee, a move seen to have been triggered by the controversy around the Haldia Petrochemicals Limited (HPL) stake sale.

While Mamata Banerjee cited Partha Chatterjee’s ‘inability to devote time as he had too many responsibilities’ as the reason for the reshuffle, political observers see two primary reasons, one more immediate than the other.

Apart from the fact that the chief minister was upset over the lukewarm response to the HPL stake sale, the change in portfolios is also being seen as a last ditch effort to woo industry. Mitra, former secretary general of Ficci, is well-known in business circles. Chatterjee, however, will continue to be the parliamentary affairs minister besides holding the IT and electronics portfolios.

The decision came close on the heels of the chief minister pulling up ‘non-performing’ ministers, which included Chatterjee, Trinamool Congress (TMC) secretary general and so far considered to be the unofficial number two in the state cabinet.

“Partha has too many ministries and can’t give enough time. He is too packed and even has to spend time with me taking responsibility of GoMs. Being the general secretary, he has to devote time for the party as well,” Banerjee told reporters, with a visibly upset Chatterjee standing next to her.

When asked for his comments, Chatterjee said, “The chief minister has done what she thought right. People will judge my performance.”

The talk of bringing Mitra into the industry ministry has been around for many months.

Still, a large section within the TMC and the government were taken aback by Mamata's decision to ‘lighten’ Chatterjee’s responsibility as the TMC supremo has always relied on Chatterjee, who is one of her close aides and long-time colleagues since the formation of TMC in 2000.

While it was no secret that Mamata was upset with Patha Chatterjee for a while as he has hardly been successful in bringing any big-ticket investment, there is a strong buzz that it was the controversy over the HPL bid that finally influenced her decision.

“The chief minister is not happy with the HPL stake sale issue. Mamata Banerjee herself had met Mukesh Ambani and discussed HPL among other things. There was high expectation that RIL would be one of the bidders. Banerjee believes Partha Chatterjee should have done more to get RIL on board. It was a big loss of face for Mamata,” said a bureaucrat close to the development.

IOC was the only valid bidder for the state government's 40 per cent stake in HPL. However, after the deadline was over, the chief minister's office had reportedly sprung into action with calls being made to the Mukesh Ambani-led company. Following this, a few hours after the deadline was over, RIL sent a 'letter' of interest with conditions attached.

But, that was not considered as a valid bid by the authorised GoM, though it was understood that the decision was not unanimous. In fact, Chatterjee went ahead to say recently that he always 'wanted' a PSU firm to take over the HPL stake, a statement that may not have struck the right chord with the chief minister.

Incidentally, soon after being robbed off the industry ministry, Chhatterjee met Mamata to hand over his resignation from the office of HPL chairman.

Recently, a Supreme Court order came as a big blow to the HPL stake sale which allowed TCG, key private promoter, to go to the International Court of Arbitration in Paris over the ownership of 155 million disputed shares. This disputed share is part of stake put on the block by the Bengal government. After Tuesday's board meeting, the company has decided to come up with a rights issue worth Rs 1,300 crore to infuse funds into the ailing company.

Image: Amit Mitra.' Photograph: Rediff Archive

Probal Basak in Kolkata