Kolkata: West Bengal’s commerce and industries minister Partha Chatterjee has been removed from his position a week or so after it became evident to the state administration that it wouldn’t in the foreseeable future be able to divest its 40% stake in Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd (HPL) and that the spat between the co-promoters of the beleaguered polymer maker had only ratcheted up.

His inability to resolve the impasse over management control and ownership of a large block of HPL’s shares despite pressure from chief minister Mamata Banerjee was possibly the last nail in his coffin, government officials and Trinamool Congress leaders said, requesting anonymity.

Soon after Banerjee announced her decision to oust Chatterjee, he stepped down as HPL chairman.

Chatterjee is to be replaced as the commerce and industries minister by Amit Mitra, who will continue to hold the finance department. It isn’t immediately clear whether he will become HPL’s chairman. Chatterjee was the first serving minister in the state to be appointed to the post, which was previously held by people nominated by the state government.

Mitra, former secretary general of lobby group Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, was tipped to become the commerce and industries minister right away when the Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011, but he was given responsibility of the finance department instead.

Finance, at that time, was Banerjee’s key concern in view of the state’s burgeoning debt pile, which was approaching 2 trillion. By now it has swelled to 2.2 trillion.

Chatterjee didn’t see this coming. He allowed his name to be printed as the commerce and industries minister on invitation cards for fair inaugurations and seminars to be held over the next few days. Some such invites were sent out even on Thursday.

Banerjee had made it clear to her ministers and key government officials that Thursday’s reshuffle was all about weeding out inefficient people. But she always plays her cards close to her chest. A similar redistribution of responsibilities happened a little over a year ago and took many by surprise.

Explaining her decision, the chief minister said Chatterjee was being relieved of the responsibility of leading a crucial department in view of his workload as the secretary general of the Trinamool Congress.

In his response to Thursday’s development, Chatterjee said he wasn’t complaining. Though he immediately resigned as HPL chairman, he said he hadn’t made up his mind whether to stand down as chairman of two other enterprises: West Bengal Industrial Development Corp. Ltd and West Bengal Industrial Infrastructure Development Corp. Ltd—both fully state-owned.

There’s no rule that these enterprises must always be headed by the commerce and industries minister, Chatterjee said. For now, he continues to be a cabinet minister with responsibility for the information technology and parliamentary affairs departments.

Lately, Mitra, among other ministers, was being increasingly consulted over matters concerning the commerce and industries department.

Mitra headed a panel that oversaw the proposed stake sale at HPL, which eventually came a cropper because The Chatterjee Group (TCG)—the firm’s private promoter—managed to get a Supreme Court verdict allowing it to drag the state government into an arbitration over 155 million disputed shares.

Mitra, who does not give interviews to the media unless instructed by Banerjee, couldn’t be contacted for a comment.

The erstwhile commerce and industries minister made a last ditch effort earlier this week to rescue HPL by getting its board to agree to a rights issue to raise 1,300 crore. But even that is likely to face legal challenges and might not be effective in bringing into the struggling firm the cash it needs to keep its naphtha cracker running.

One minister was dropped from the state cabinet and half-a-dozen other portfolios were redistributed on Thursday.

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