Amidst the Centre selling off Public Sector Enterprises (PSUs) to private players, the Kerala government has been waiting for the approval for the draft proposal from the Union government for purchasing 51% stake in the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited - Electrical Machines Limited (BHEL-EML) at Kasaragod.
As the order is yet to be handed over to the state government, the employees of BHEL-EML have not received their salaries for the last 18 months. However, the employees have intensified their agitation demanding the early completion of the transfer of equity in the company to the state government and payment of pending salaries. A Joint Trade Union Action Committee, comprising employees from all trade unions including Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Swathanthra Thozhilali Union (STU), and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) etc., is leading the protests.
The unit was opened as a joint venture of BHEL and the Kerala government, with 51% and 49% stakes, respectively.
“Following disinvestment, the state government agreed to take the rest of the stake, and a file was generated for its transfer in 2019. However, there has been inordinate delay on the part of the central government in completing the process. This has put the life of 180 employees at stake, not to mention the huge debt into which the company has fallen,” said the Joint Committee convenor A. Vasudevan.
According to the employees, the debt of the unit was around Rs 50 lakh in 2016 when disinvestment was proposed in 2016. But, the debt has become Rs 50 crore now. Following the disinvestment, the unit suffered heavy losses including the cancellation of orders, and non execution of projects etc.
Intervening in the issue, Elamaram Kareem, Member of Rajya Sabha, on Tuesday said, “The Centre has been postponing the decision to hand over the Kasaragod BHEL-EML plant to the Government of Kerala indefinitely. They are not even ready to implement the Kerala High Court order to complete the process and hand over Kerala's unit. The department had repeatedly written to the ministers and the Prime Minister asking them to intervene in the matter and complete the transfer process as soon as possible.”
The salaries and other benefits, including provident fund and retirement benefits are pending despite interventions from the National Human Rights Commission and the Kerala High Court to take appropriate steps to redress employees’ grievances. The High Court even ordered the Centre and the Department of Heavy Industries to finalise the sale agreement between BHEL and the state government within three months.
However, according to Kareem, the response from top officials in the Prime Minister's Office was hopeful. “I met Arun Goel, Secretary, Union Ministry of Mines and Industries today. The reply received from him was that all the steps related to the transfer of the institution had been completed and final approval would be received at any moment. The Secretary, Department of Mines and Industries, replied that the interventions made by the Government of Kerala and others, including myself as an MP, at the official level and in politics are bearing fruit,” said Kareem.
In a letter to minister Arun Goel, Kareem pointed out that “After receiving the approval of the Union Cabinet and reaching in a tripartite MoU the transfer process is being delayed inordinately. Due to this, hundreds of families depended on this PSU in Kerala are in very difficult situation. The plant is closed since many months and the employees are not getting their wages. [sic]”
“Workers have been suffering for months without even being paid as a result of the endless transfer process. The intense struggle of the employees is also forcing the government to speed up the processes. The transfer of this institution will also be in recognition of the Left Democratic Front Government’s efforts to protect the public sector,” he said in the letter.
The Kerala government has strongly been opposing the Centre's decision to privatise a slew of public sector enterprises in the state. "The Centre has been turning a blind eye to the protests erupting across the country against its wrong policies. The state has always expressed our deep concern over the decision of the Centre to hand over the public sector undertakings in the state to private parties," Vijayan was quoted as saying by PTI in the state Assembly in January this year.