The indefinite dharna of BEML employees at the company’s Palakkad unit against the privatisation of the public sector undertaking (PSU) entered the 39th day on Saturday. When the Centre decided to move ahead with the disinvestment of BEML Limited (formerly Bharat Earth Movers Limited), the employees at various units across the country launched an indefinite strike.
At Palakkad unit, the employees under the banner of BEML Employees Association had launched an indefinite dharna on January 6. The protest started after the Centre 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 the 26% equity share capital of its total shareholding of 54.03% along with management control.
The dharna at the Palakkad unit has been witnessing the participation of BEML employees along with other sections of the society. The central trade union,s who have aligned with the protesting employees, have initiated a public campaign. Centre of Indian Trade Unions on February 12 kick-started a vehicle rally to raise awareness among the public against the privatisation drive. The rally would cover various talukas in the district.
As part of this ongoing protest series, a Jana Sabha has been conducted in front of BEML Palakkad complex on February 13. Elected representatives from Palakkad district including MLAs, President and Vice President of District Panchayat, various Gram Panchayat, Block Panchayat and Municipalities were part of the Jana Sabha.
On February 17, a people’s ‘protest wall’ will be staged. The wall which would start from the BEML unit would extend till the Instrumentation Limited Palakkad (ILP), said S Gireesh, the general secretary of BEML Employees Union while talking to Newsclick.
Elamaram Kareem, Rajya Sabha member, however, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging an immediate intervention into the situation. “In Kerala, there is a unit of BEML functioning in Kanchikkode, Palakkad district. It was established in the year 2010 and at present, around 300 permanent employees and 150 contract staffs are working there. This unit of BEML also is operating in an efficient manner and largely contributes to the social and economic development of its adjoining area and the state of Kerala as a whole. There is a long pending proposal with the Union Government regarding the establishment of a Railway Coach factory in Palakkad, which is intended to start with the support and expertise of BEML unit here. Till now the Union Government has not taken a favourable decision on this proposal. On top of it, the Government’s decision to disinvest and transfer the management control of this profit making strategically important PSU to private hands is highly disappointing,” said Kareem in his letter to PM.
Earlier, though there were multiple efforts to privatise the ‘Mini-Ratna’ company BEML, the protests by employees had forced the government to maintain it as a PSU, which has been making profits from its inception. Now, when the government proceeds with the privatisation drive again, the private players would get the assets of the company for throwaway prices, say employees.
According to the employees and unions, the assets of BEML are estimated to be worth well above Rs. 50,000 crores. In Bengaluru alone, BEML has 205 acres of land. In Mysore, BEML owns 530 acres, 2,400 acres in Kolar Gold Fields and 375 acres in Palakkad.
Also, BEML is a strategic company in terms of national security, said Gireesh, adding that, “BEML is the only PSU that manufactures metro [rail] coaches in India. The company has served orders from Bengaluru, Jaipur, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai. Among these, Mumbai was the latest one.”
The government has been putting forward the point that the PSUs would be more efficient by this strategic disinvestment drive whenever the questions were raised. If we consider the BEML’s example, the company had bagged the Rs 3,015 crore Mumbai metro corridor order after competing with international companies including CRC from China. “BEML was the lowest among seven bidders which included seven internationally renowned companies,” reads the press information from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. Raising these points, the employees and unions are also questioning the logic behind the privatisation of this PSU.