Maverick UPA ally and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee not only skipped the Chief Ministers’ conference on April 16, but her colleague in the Union Cabinet Railway Minister Mukul Roy too has started opposing key government Bills in Cabinet meetings.
Roy created a flutter at the first Cabinet meeting he attended on April 12, almost a month after he was inducted in the Union Cabinet, sources said. He raised serious objections to not only the Procurement Bill adopted by the Cabinet, but also pointed out that unless Lokayukta provisions from the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill are withdrawn, his party won’t support it. He said his party leader had articulated her stand clearly and the TMC should not be blamed unnecessarily later for the problems.
Roy also made it clear that some of the provisions relating to royalty on coal were not acceptable to the TMC as it would adversely affect West Bengal’s revenue situation. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee tried to explain that the states which are imposing a cess on coal mining, cannot be given royalty on coal. The states can take either the cess or the royalty, but cannot be entitled to both the benefits. Roy’s counter argument was that this yardstick could not be applied to coal alone when such a thing is not applicable to oil or other natural resources.
It is learnt that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remained silent when Roy raised objections. Significantly, Roy raised his objections on the twin subjects of coal royalty and Lokayukta which were not even part of the Cabinet agenda. Sources said most of the batting was done by Pranab Mukherjee who assured that Roy’s objections to the Procurement Bill will be reviewed and when ever the Bill is formally brought in Parliament, necessary changes will be made.
He raised serious objection to some of the clauses of the Procurement Bill which was adopted by the Cabinet in his presence. The Bill curtails the powers of Cabinet ministers to order purchases in their respective ministries and departments to Rs 50 lakh. Till now the Cabinet ministers enjoyed the power to order purchases upto Rs 50 crore without going to the Union Cabinet for approval. Roy said that he has received many objections from the General Managers of the Railways saying that any curtailment of their financial powers will harm the railways.
Roy left for Kolkata after being made the minister and is peeved at the fact that he has been kept out of all powerful committees of the Cabinet. Though Railway Ministry is the major infrastructure ministry and second most powerful ministry after finance, he is not a member of even Cabinet Committee on infrastructure or any of the group of ministers or empowered group of ministers. It is the first time that the Railway Minister is not part of the Cabinet Committee. This is going to be a major issue for the TMC in the weeks to come.