Vishakhapatnam: After the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014, Visakhapatnam district emerged as the economic and financial centre of Andhra Pradesh. Under PM Narendra Modi and CM N Chandrababu Naidu-led governments, the industrial district has witnessed continuous struggles against anti-workers policies, privatisation and disinvestment in public sector units present there. Workers in private entities, on the other side, have led continuous struggles against exploitation of contractors.
As the state is all set for simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha polls on April 11, workers are arguing that the series of peoples’ struggles in the last five years against the Telugu Desam Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led governments have left the two parties with a weaker support base across the state.
Trade union activists have been arguing that the NDA-led central government’s attempts to weaken all the PSUs while pushing forward the interests of private players have disillusioned the working-class in the district. Following the BJP’s stringent opposition to impart special category status to the state – despite statewide protests from all sections of people irrespective of political parties – combined with its pro- corporate agenda, political pundits are predicting that the saffron party will find it difficult to even get back their deposits in state.
The coastal district Visakhapatnam has three Lok Sabha constituencies – Visakhapatnam, Anakapalli and Araku (ST reserved) and 15 assembly segments – Visakhapatnam East, South, West and North, Gajuwaka, Pendurthi, Bheemili, Chodavaram, Yelamanchili, Madugula, Narsipatnam, Payakaraopeta, Araku Valley and Paderu.
All the public and private sector units are located in and around Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation and Gajuwaka town.
There are 60,377 permanent employees and 37,155 contractual workers in industries like steel plants, shipyards, Bharat Heavy Electronics Limited (BHEL), Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL), Visakha Port, Dockyards, Indian Oil Corporation, Dredging Corporation of India, Railways, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), nationalised banks, Indian Navy and Air India.
Autonagar at Gajuwaka houses 400 private companies employing nearly 7,500 workers.
Forty-six-year-old Rambabu, a resident of Gajuwaka town, told Newsclick that the private companies in Autonagar choose workers from other states rather than the locals, as the companies fear that the locals might join trade unions to claim their rights. “In 1973, Gajuwaka farmers gave away lands at the rate of Rs 1,000 per acre, hoping for employment opportunities for their people. However, the companies would always prefer employees from other states, who would settle for meagre wages,” claims Rambabu.
“In 2017, one railways spare parts company was established in Autonagar with a budget of around Rs 4,500 crore, which promised jobs to the locals. Till date, not even one job has been provided to Gajuwaka people,” he added.
D Ramana (36) is a hydro operator (skilled worker) working with a company in Autonagar. He says that he is being paid only Rs 8,700 per month as his salary. His contactor compels him to work for 12 hours a day. Workers in Autonagar complain that companies such as Dosco, SAIL Steel, Pragathi Ventures, Coromandel Cartons, Navata Transports, Vasu Engineering, Sri Balaji Industries among other do not pay even the minimum wages, but force them to work for more than eight hours per day. Workers’ leaders told Newsclick that the condition of the female workers is horrible as they face fear of insecurity and are being paid wages as low as Rs 3,000 per month.
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“When it comes to corporate interests, there is no difference between Narendra Modi and Chandrababu Naidu, as both of them favour private players in the name of ease of doing business, but at the cost of workers’ welfare,” alleged Ch Narasinga Rao, CITU state president. He says that there is an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and anti-Telugu Desam Party (TDP) wave in the district this electoral season following the policies adopted in the region.
Vizag steel plant
Despite numerous attempts by the central government to disinvest 10% stake in the steel plant, so far, the employees’ continuous struggles have prevented it. “It is true that the plant has been in losses since 2015, mainly because of increase in operating costs with the increase in the price of the raw material – iron ore. There is a consistent demand from the employees for captive mines which would reduce operating costs drastically, but the central government has been so reluctant,” Rao told Newsclick. There are 17,458 permanent employees and 12,000 contract workers in the steel plant.
Dredging Corporation of India
DCI is the country’s largest dredging company with a fleet of 17 dredgers. It recorded profits to the tune of Rs 79 crore in 2015-16, Rs 7.4 crore in 2016-17 and Rs 22 crore by September 2017. The BJP-led central government, which was on a spree of privatisation of PSUs, had valued the total assets of the DCI at Rs 2,666 crore as against the market value of Rs 5,000 crore. “In spite of stiff resistance from the DCI workers, the central government went ahead with its decision to privatise it. When the trade union leaders appealed to the sitting MP K Hari Babu, he said that he was helpless in the matter, as the decision was made by the central Cabinet,” explained Rao.
On December 4, 2017, one DCI employee, N Venkatesh, had reportedly committed suicide by jumping before a moving train near Vizianagaram. In his suicide note, Venkatesh wrote that he was resorting to the extreme step for the fear of losing his job post privatisation. He wished that the Centre would stop privatisation. Later in 2018, the central government stayed its plan of privatisation of the DCI.
Visakhapatnam Lok Sabha constituency
Although there are 24 candidates in the fray for the Lok Sabha constituency, as per local political analysts, the key contestants are TDP candidate MV Sribharat, YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) candidate MVV Satyanarayana, Jana Sena candidate and former CBI Joint Director Lakshmi Narayana, and BJP candidate, a former minister, D Purandeswari.
In 2014 elections, BJP candidate K Haribabu was elected as the MP, who secured 5.6 lakh votes (48%), defeating his nearest rival YS Vijayamma of YSRCP.
Gajuwaka Assembly constituency
Sitting TDP MLA Palla Srinivasa Rao has retained his seat from the ruling party, and is pitted against Jana Sena party president Pawan Kalyan and YSR Congress candidate Tippala Nagi Reddy.
Jana Sena party has forged an alliance with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India and Bahujan Samaj Party and has emerged as the third key force in the state reversing the previous situation where bipolar politics between TDP and YSRCP dominated the polls.
Coastal district Visakhapatnam has four revenue divisions namely Visakhapatnam, Anakapalli, Narsipatnam and Paderu consisting of 3,265 villages and 15 towns. It has one greater municipal corporation, two municipalities and 12 towns. As per 2011 census, the district has over 42 lakh population while the authorities estimate the current figure at around 47 lakh.
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