Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Industry & Economy - Economic Offences
Flex Industries imbroglio -- Opposition MPs bay for Sinha's blood
NEW DELHI, May 13
THE Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, is under pressure again with the Opposition parties seeking his exit from the Ministry following reports that Flex Industries - now facing a CBI probe - had allegedly printed and supplied material for his Lok Sabha campaign in 1999.
While Mr Sinha is scheduled to make a statement on May 15 in Parliament to clear himself of the allegation, sources said that there was pressure from within the ruling BJP and certain top corporate houses to shift him out of the Finance Ministry.
With speculation mounting about an imminent change of guard in the Finance Ministry as part of the Cabinet reshuffle by the end of this month, several names of potential successors are doing the rounds.
These include the Disinvestment Minister, Mr Arun Shourie, the Human Resources Minister, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, and the External Affairs Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh.
Over the last couple of years, despite several controversies which had rocked the financial sector such as the misuse of the portfolio investment route by FIIs based in Mauritius, the 2001 stock market manipulations and later the crisis in the Unit Trust of India (UTI), Mr Sinha has managed to stave off the attacks against him.
More recently, Mr Sinha came under flak from within his own party for his Budget proposals after the BJP's rout in the Delhi civic polls. The former Delhi Chief Minister, Mr Sahib Singh Verma, had attributed the defeat to the Budget proposals. Even the BJP President, Mr Jana Krishnamurthy, had criticised some of the proposals saying that the ground realities were being ignored.
Subsequently, the Finance Minister partially rolled back some of the crucial Budget proposals including pruning the tax rebate on small savings instruments. Mr Sinha has also been under attack from his opponents for the mismanagement of the economy.
The issue of Mr Sinha taking the help of Flex Industries during his campaign was raised by the Congress MP, Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal, in the Lok Sabha during Zero Hour on Monday.
Mr Bansal sought the resignation of Mr Sinha on moral grounds, saying the Flex Industries issue had cast a shadow on the functioning of the Government.
He added that "the case reflected corruption in Government and connivance between Government high-ups and dubious businessmen''.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Congress and Left party members in Rajya Sabha demanded a statement from the Finance Minister to explain his position in the wake of a newspaper report in this regard.
The Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, said that action had already been initiated against Flex Industries for allegedly bribing a senior Excise official. "I assure the House that investigations will be taken to its logical end,'' Mr Mahajan said.
The CPI(M) leader, Mr Somnath Chatterjee, remarked that Government was being "very accommodative'' on the issue "as Sinha is going''. The senior Congress Member, Mr Arjun Singh, in Rajya Sabha said that serious allegations had been made against Mr Sinha in a leading English daily, which even gave details of the despatch of special election material through the Railways allegedly by Flex Industries chief, Mr Ashok Chaturvedi.
"The issue is not about Mr Chaturvedi," Mr Singh said, asking how could Mr Sinha and his Ministry be impartial in the ongoing investigations against Flex Industries in the midst of the revelations. The Jharkhand Governor and former Cabinet Secretary, Mr Prabhat Kumar, had to resign in connection with the Flex case.
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