Behind railway minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mukul Roys veto on the Pension Funds Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill in todays cabinet meeting and his absence at the Prime Ministers meeting with core sector ministers yesterday is his partys demand for relief from its Rs 25,560-crore annual debt burden.
The Centre has,incidentally,been working on a package but even that will barely meet TMC halfway around Rs 12,000 crore because a bulk of the states loans have been taken from the market and not from the central government. So while the Centre holds on to its package,a restless Mamata Banerjee is speaking through an abrasive Mukul Roy.
On Wednesday,as is known,Roy did not make it to the PMs special meeting on infrastructure revival. What is,however,not known is that the meeting was scheduled for Wednesday morning but was shifted to the evening after Roy said he was busy in the forenoon and would like a postponement.
By evening,he was still not available and demanded another postponement. At this point,an embarrassed PM decided to go ahead without him because it would have been inappropriate to ask other ministers to change their schedule again.
The TMCs shrill attacks against the government have been replaced by outright defiance. Roy blocked the note to ease restrictions in FDI norms for foreign airlines to invest in aviation although thats just a change within existing FDI rules for the sector. Its learnt that Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh had a positive conversation with Banerjee on the issue but conveyed to the Prime Ministers Office that he wasnt sure if Mamata would blink.
On PFRDA,well after the Standing Committee on Finance gave its recommendations,Roy claims his partys views have not been heard because the Trinamool was not represented in the committee when discussions were held. He has asked for a special hearing for Trinamool so that its concerns can be accommodated regardless of what the parliamentary committee may have suggested.
As for the debt relief package,the break up of Rs 25,560 crore reveals that Rs 7,424 crore is the principal amount. The remaining sum of an estimated Rs 19,000 crore goes towards repaying interest. And of this,only about Rs 1,000 crore goes towards interest payment of loans taken from the Centre.
The remaining,approximately Rs 18,109 crore,is made up of interest payment towards loans taken from non-government sources,mainly market and commercial banks.
The Centres planned package involves a loan to pay off the principal amount of Rs 7,424 crore,spreading out the payment over 20 years. North Block has worked out Rs 1,960 crore that the state could get through a three-year moratorium on repayment. Add to this another Rs 1,300 crore as debt relief because the state has not claimed a debt waiver under the FRBM Act. To top it up,the Centre is willing to help negotiate and secure a Rs 500-crore loan from Asian Development Bank. In all,this works out to about Rs 12,000 crore.
Insiders,however,say the state government may not be satisfied with this as its demand is for a complete moratorium on all payment and a generous gesture from the Centre to take on some of the debts. The Central government has conveyed at several levels that it cannot make exceptions by taking on the states loans but was willing to help. Even this package,sources said,will stretch the governments resources and is bound to invite opposition from other states. But will that placate Banerjee? This is a question to which the UPA leadership has still no definite answer.