As the BJP-led Centre moves ahead with the disinvestment of BEML Limited (formerly Bharat Earth Movers Limited), the employees at various units across the country are on indefinite strike. The central government on January 3 issued a preliminary information memorandum calling for a two-stage competitive bidding process and set the minimum net worth requirement for bidders at Rs 1,400 crore, disinvesting its 26% equity share capital of its total shareholding of 54.03% along with management control.
Meanwhile, the dharna of employees at BEML’s Palakkad unit against the central government’s move entered the eighth day on Wednesday, January 13. The employees under the banner of BEML Employees Association had launched an indefinite dharna on January 6.
Extending solidarity to the struggle of BEML employees, a special convention of unions in Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), on Monday urged the Ventre to stop selling the national assets to private players. Representatives of permanent and contract employees from BEML, Instrumentation Limited Palakkad (ILP), BPCL’s Kochi Refinery, FACT, HMT, Shipyard, IOC, HPCL, HOC, Cochin Port, IRE, HIL, Hindustan Latex and BSNL were the part of the special convention.
Along with BEML, the Centre had put out ILP, BPCL’s Kochi Refinery and Hindustan Newsprint Limited (HNL) for sale. Though the state government had stepped into to acquire these units, the Centre is yet to hand over the ILP and HNL to the state.
The convention also noted that the provision giving rights to the management to unilaterally amend the workers' pay revision agreement from June 2022 is to help the private company which would acquire BPCL. The employees and unions said that the management should refrain from this move. In the case of refinery workers, the provision to cut four-day salary for participating in a one-day strike should be withdrawn. The salary for 13 days, which was withheld during the four strikes, must be returned. The convention has also extended its solidarity with the workers' protest, demanding the reversal of BEML's decision to sell its 26% stake.
Also read: Centre Reaffirms Disinvestment of Profit-making BEML
“The convention demanded the release of a White Paper outlining the role of Central Public Sector Undertakings in the development of the country. On January 27, a campaign will be launched in all public sector institutions demanding protection of farmers and the public sector and declaring solidarity with the peasant struggle. In the first week of February, it has been decided to organise public sector protection seminars in Palakkad, Elur, Ambalamukal, Vellore and Thiruvananthapuram,” said S Gireesh, general secretary of BEML Employees Association, while talking to NewsClick.
Though the central government had enlisted the CPSEs from Kerala to disinvest, the unions in the state along with the Left Democratic Front government have been opposing the steps of the Centre. The state government even stepped in to take over the public sector units to protect the national interests.
“In the case of ILP, the Centre is delaying the process of handing over the unit to the state though the Memorandum of Undertaking had been signed,” said Gireesh. The process is being held up over the issues related to land assets which were earlier not part of the MoU. In June 2018, the state government had decided to take over the unit and on November 16, 2018, a tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by the Department of Heavy Industry (DHI), Government of Kerala, Department of Industry and the Instrumentation Limited defining the modalities of transfer of Palakkad unit to Kerala government, with the approval of the competent authority.
The Union Cabinet had, on November 30, 2016, approved the closure of the Kota unit of Instrumentation Limited and had accorded ‘in principle’ approval for the transfer of Palakkad unit of Instrumentation Limited to the Kerala government.
Also read: BEML Employees’ Unions Begin Indefinite Stir Against Privatisation
When Elamaram Kareem, a parliamentarian from Kerala, raised the question why the Centre is delaying the handing over of ILP to the state on the floor of Rajya Sabha, Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, said: “...the required assessment of Net Asset Value (NAV) of the Palakkad Unit was underway, it was learnt that the High Level Committee had not taken into consideration the value of land owned by the Palakkad Unit, measuring 566.30 acres which was assigned on registry to Instrumentation Limited, Kota for the establishment of Precision Instrumentation Project at Pudussery Kerala under the Rules of Assignment of Government Land for Industrial Purposes dated 30.03.1964, which has material bearing on the transfer modalities. The value of this land owned by Instrumentation Limited has not yet been assessed.”
In 1964, the unit was established at Kanjikkode in Palakkad. The land was acquired by the state government for industrial purposes and had handed it over for the ILP. Majority of the land, which had been given to the ILP, however, is not with them currently. The lands have been handed over to the Railways, FCRI, Kendriya Vidyalaya etc, leaving ILP with only122 acres of land.
“The processes to acquire HNL has moved further than the ILP,” said Gireesh. Earlier in August last year, Kerala government had initiated the process to acquire HNL. The Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (KINFRA) had been directed to take steps in this regard. The funds required to purchase the public sector unit (PSU) would be allotted through Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) -- a state government-owned financial institution to mobilise funds for infrastructure development from outside the state revenue.