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Don't repeat mistake on Iran, Left tells Government

K.V. Prasad

Left returns to coordination committee meeting, opposes FDI in retail sector

NEW DELHI: The Left parties on Thursday returned to the coordination committee with the United Progressive Alliance after a four-month gap. They conveyed opposition to the foreign direct investment in the retail sector and asked the Government to have an independent foreign policy, and in the case of Iran, abstain in case consensus was lacking in the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In a detailed note on FDI in retail trade, the Left parties said it was fundamentally different from Greenfield investment in manufacturing and since India did not have any prior commitments vis--vis the WTO to open it up, the case to do so "does not seem to be justifiable."

"The Left parties gave a note on FDI in retail trade. The Government has agreed to study the note and give its response,'' Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told correspondents after the two-and-a-half hour meeting of the Left-UPA Coordination Committee.

The meeting also signalled the end of a four-month boycott by the Left parties following the standoff over the disinvestment of Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited. UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi opened her remarks by welcoming back the leaders of these parties.

Besides Ms. Gandhi, the meeting was attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr. Chidambaram, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary, Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau members Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Sitaram Yechury, CPI leaders A. B. Bardhan and D. Raja, and Abani Roy of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.

The Government raised the issue of disinvestment of small portions of its equity in non-navratna profit-making companies as a measure to raise resources. Both sides agreed to discuss the issue further. Mr. Karat said the Government could give its proposals for the same and the Left parties would respond. On the controversial Iran nuclear issue on which India had voted along with the U.S. favouring the IAEA resolution against Teheran, Mr. Chidambaram said views were exchanged on New Delhi's stand on it. After some discussions it was decided to await the return of External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh who is away in Russia. The matter would be taken up at the next meeting.

In its note on Iran, the Left parties said India should not repeat its mistake and if the issue came up for voting at the IAEA meeting on November 24, India should stick to its principled position that the matter should be resolved through negotiations; Iran had the right to have a peaceful nuclear programme; Iran must abide by its treaty obligations; and possibilities existed for settling the issue within the framework of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA.

The Government also sought Left parties support for three Bills to amend banking laws as well as the Pension Bill under consideration of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance.

The Government said it had taken on board the recommendations of the Standing Committee on the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority and would give due consideration to it.

The Finance Minister said the Government requested the Left parties to support these Bills. "The Left parties indicated that they will consider the matter and put forward their suggestions for amendments, if any," a note issue by the Government said. In response to the Left parties demand for tabling the Women's Reservation Bill and the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill in the ensuing winter session of Parliament, the Government conveyed to them the progress made in the consultations on these two legislations.

Mr. Chidambaram said discussions would continue on these two Bills. On the Women's Bill issue, the Left parties demanded that the Bill be taken up during the winter session while the Government maintained that it would consult other key parties on it.

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