After 40 days of ongoing agitation in Sahibabad, more than 500 employees of the Central Electronics Limited (CEL) have brought their agitation to the streets of Delhi. Protesting outside the Ministry of Science and Technology, TK Thomas, member of the workers’ union, said, “Ek taraf sarkar sarkari companies ko band karwane ki poori koshish kar rahi hai. Doosri side, corporate companies ko riyayat pe riyayat de rahi hai (On the one hand, the government is trying its best to shut down the PSUs, while on the other hand, it is offering a plethora of benefits to the corporates).”
The central government is currently inviting applications from bidders to sell off 100 per cent of its stake in the company, which will lead to a complete overhaul of the management. The deadline for submission of proposals has been extended for the third time to November 31.
Addressing the protesters, Tapan Sen, general secretary, Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said, “The attempt to sell off CEL should not be looked at as an isolated instance. It is part of the larger conspiracy by the Modi government to benefit the corporates. Because of the efforts of the workers, due to the pressure exerted by the employees, private players are holding back from showing interest in the company. This is why the government was compelled to extend the deadline for the submission of proposals day before yesterday.”
The attempts at privatisation are likely to put on line lives of over 1,000 workers of the company, along with their families. Speaking to Newsclick, Shiv Narain Patel, the president of the union at CEL, said, “The reason given to justify the attempts to sell off our company is that we have not been making profits. That is not true, as our company is a national asset, and has been making profits consistently. The turnover of the company in 2017 was over Rs 21 crores, and we have an upcoming project with the Maharashtra government worth Rupees 1,000 crores.”
The company, established in 1974, is located at a prime location in Ghaziabad, and is the only PSU in the area along with Bharat Electronic Limited (BEL).
Watch more: Why is the Modi Govt Trying to Sell CEL? Employees Speak UP
“Compared to bigger companies, CEL is a small one with a turnover of about Rs 50 crores. Then, why the government is adamant on selling it off?” questioned Sen. He added, “A PSU like CEL, working for solar energy, is allocated subsidies by the central government. Selling off the company to private players would mean that these subsidies will be diverted.”
CEL is the latest name in the row of the PSUs that are being privatised by PM Modi. Thomas added, “The reason why there is a cash crunch in the PSUs is primarily because of the government’s intent to benefit corporate interests.
For example, in the case of ONGC, which we worked with closely, the cash was deliberately drained out, and their contract was taken away. Attempts are being made to drive both CEL and BEL into a similar crisis. Even in the case of HAL, the same thing happened. Their contract was taken away to benefit the Ambanis in the case of the Rafale deal.”
Interestingly, the proposals invited by the government do not specify any technical criteria—any company with a turnover of more than Rs 50 crores can acquire CEL. The attempts to privatise the profit-making PSU are also significant in the light of the upcoming defense corridor in Uttar Pradesh, where the Centre is encouraging corporates to invest by giving subsidies on land, electricity etc.
Determined to ensure that CEL is not sold off, the employees are planning to intensify their agitation, and perhaps, will take legal recourse, as all attempts at political negotiations have failed.
The protesting employees today saw participation and support of over 17 other organisations such as the CITU, MTNL, and multiple students’ organisations such as the DYFI and SFI.
Read more: Is Modi Govt Trying to Shut a Profit-making PSU?