Kolkata

Chidambaram faces protests by lawyers claiming allegiance to Bengal Congress

Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. File

Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. File | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram on Wednesday faced protests by lawyers claiming allegiance to the Congress outside the premises of the Calcutta High Court. The lawyers were upset that the Congress leader was representing agro-processing firm Keventer in a matter filed by West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleging corruption in the transfer of State government’s shares to the private company.

 Mr. Chowdhury had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in 2018 demanding probe by a Central agency in the process in which the shares of Metro Diary owned by the West Bengal government were transferred to Keventer Agro Ltd. Mr. Chidambaram was leaving the High Court when one of the lawyers who identified himself as Congress supporter Kaustav Bagchi started shouting and accosting him. Slogans like ‘Go Back’ were raised and black flags were waved at him.

“Mr. Chidambaram, you are playing with the sentiments of Congress workers. You are an MP and member of the Congress Working Committee.. It is because of leaned persons like you the Congress party cannot stand on its feet in West Bengal,” Mr. Bagchi was heard saying. The lawyer also accused the former Union Minister of being a “tout” and coming to the aid of the Trinamool Congress when “the party was suffering in West Bengal”.

The former Union Finance Minister who was escorted to his car by juniors and security personnel responded, saying, “I am also a lawyer”. Later in the day, Mr. Bagchi said Mr. Chidambaram was arguing that the petition filed by the State Congress president be quashed.

 Mr. Chowdhury said it was a “natural“ reaction of Congress workers but something which the party’s State unit had nothing to do with it. The State Congress chief, however, added that he felt there had been “massive corruption” in the matter and he would continue to contest the matter in courts.

Public-private venture

Metro Dairy was established in 1991 as a public-private venture. The State-run West Bengal Milk Producers Federation had 47% stake, the Centre-run National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) had 10% and the remaining 43% was owned by Keventer Agro Ltd.  Subsequently, the NDDB sold its entire stake to Keventer and in 2017 the State government approved the sale of the remaining 47% in an auction. Keventer was the only one to bid.

According to Mr. Chowdhury’s petition, while the State government sold its 47% stake in Metro Dairy Ltd to Keventer Agro Ltd for nearly ₹85 crore, Keventer sold 15% of its shares to a Singapore-based company for around ₹135 crore a few weeks after becoming the company’s sole owner. During the hearing of the matter in November 2021, the Central Bureau of Investigation had told the Calcutta High Court that it was willing to probe the matter if the court so directed.

 Unease in the the West Bengal Congress has been evident on several occasions when senior Congress leaders. who are also well-known advocates, have represented the Trinamool Congress government in the Supreme Court or in the Calcutta High Court, most recently on the issue of  post-poll violence in the State. Interestingly, the Trinamool Congress had supported Congress leader and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha from the State in 2018.


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Printable version | Jun 15, 2022 10:44:02 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/congress-lawyers-protest-p-chidambarams-appearance-in-case-filed-by-partys-bengal-unit/article65381503.ece