Hyderabad: Over the past two weeks the state of Andhra Pradesh has witnessed massive support to the ongoing protests against the privatisation of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd. (RINL), the corporate entity of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant. As a relay hunger strike by workers and employees of the plant entered its sixth day on Wednesday, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy assured trade union leaders that the state government was committed to save the plant from privatisation during his visit to Visakhapatnam.
Earlier this week trade unions and opposition parties, including Left parties and the Telugu Desam Party, held protests across all districts in the state. On February 15, hundreds of activists, trade unionists and students started a bike rally from Kakinada and reached Visakhapatnam on Wednesday.
However, the police stopped and arrested trade union activists for starting a bike rally from Srikakulam.
“The CM has assured that the state government will pass a resolution in the Assembly against the privatisation of the plant,” said Jyesta Ayodhya Ramu, president of the plant’s recognised union and convenor of the Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata committee. During a meeting with the trade unionists and workers from the steel plant, the CM said that the government will urge the Centre to allot captive mines for the plant.
“The people of Visakhapatnam are annoyed with the Centre’s decision to privatise the plant. It must be remembered that 19,700 acres of land from 68 villages were acquired from the farmers of Visakhapatnam district for the establishment of the plant,” said Ch. Narasinga Rao, state president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). He said that the people would not stop their agitation until the BJP government takes back its decision.
On Tuesday, former CM and TDP leader N. Chandrababu Naidu said that his party MPs and MLAs are ready for mass resignations to save the plant from privatisation. “TDP will be ready to hold joint struggles with the ruling party against the Central Government’s attempts to privatise the plant,” he said at a public meeting. TDP MLA Palla Srinivasa Rao sat on a week-long hunger strike in protest against privatisation.
Last week, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, CM Jagan wrote: “The plant performed well between 2002 and 2015, earning profits with positive net worth. The company has around 19,700 acres of land currently. The valuation of these lands itself would exceed Rs 1 lakh crore due to location of the plant in a metropolitan area and rapidly expanding urban sprawl. However, owing to unfavourable steel cycles globally, the company started making losses since 2014–15 and found it difficult to service its debt. One of the major structural issues for its high cost of production is absence of captive mines, thereby affecting profitability.”
In a press conference, YSRCP MP Vijay Sai Reddy said that thousands of ruling party members will participate in a massive rally from the Gandhi statue near Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation office to the main gate of the steel plant, a distance of 25 kms.
In Kadapa, activists and common people have been staging mass protests demanding the government to set up a public sector steel plant in the district as assured in The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014.
Addressing a public meeting in Kadapa, V. Srinivasa Rao of the CPI(M) said that the opposition parties will organise a state-wide bandh against the privatisation and setting up of a steel plant in Kadapa.
“In 2000, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government also tried to privatise the plant but had witnessed massive opposition. Successive governments have been conspiring for the privatisation for a long time hence no captive mines have been allotted. The absence of captive mines has led to high cost of production which has affected the plant’s profitability,” said Narasinga Rao.
“As the Narendra Modi government is spearheading the privatisation of public sector units, resistance by the people of Andhra Pradesh against the privatisation of the steel plant will set a model for workers of other PSUs,” he said.