The Modi government is selling off the family silver, alleged the petroleum workers who were present at the National Convention Against Privatisation of PSUs in New Delhi—the family silver being the ‘maharatna’ public sector enterprises, namely, IOCL, BPCL and HPCL.
The three state-owned oil companies are the latest targets of the Modi regime’s privatisation onslaught. The strategic disinvestment of BPCL and HPCL has already been cleared by the Union Cabinet, while reports suggest that the centre is mulling to reduce stakes in IOC to below 51%.
On Wednesday, petroleum workers coming from different arms of the oil industry—production, refining, pipeline and marketing—declared their opposition to the privatisation project. A total of 21 BPCL and HPCL unions have served strike notice for a one-day ‘token strike’ on November 28. While ONGC’s subsidiary Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL) will join the unions in their strike, workers of ONGC, OIL, GAIL, IOCL, Balmer Lawrie and Pawan Hans have extended solidarity support to the strike.
The strike will be led by the three apex federations functioning across the oil PSUs, namely, All India Petroleum Workers’ Federation (AIPWF), National Federation of Petroleum Workers (NFPW) and Petroleum and Gas Workers’ Federation of India (PGWFI).
Their concerns include infiltration of the private oil and gas giants—domestic and foreign—which will bear severe economic repercussions on the nation’s energy security.
Apart from the workers’ fronts, the convention also saw political parties cutting across ideologies joining hands to record their protest. Members of Parliament belonging to Congress, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist) addressed the convention. The struggle of the petroleum workers also secured support from Shiv Sena’s Sena Kamgar Federation.
The three public oil companies own more than 75% of the Indian fuel marketing business. Speaking of only BPCL, it has 15,078 petrol pumps and 6,004 LPG distributors and currently operates four refiners in Mumbai, Kochi, Madhya Pradesh’s Bina and in Assam’s Numaligarh.
The news of the government setting to divest its entire stake in BPCL, which currently stands at 53.29%, has also worried the state governments which share a significant stake in BPCL’s refineries.
A day earlier, the Kerala Assembly passed a resolution condemning the Modi government’s move to privatise BPCL. Invested heavily in the Kochi refinery, the state has also planned a Rs. 25,000 crore petrochemical plant. With privatisation on the table, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan slammed the Centre saying that it would compromise the interests of the nation.
In another news in BJP-ruled Assam, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonawal wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising concerns over the ownership status of the Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL), post BPCL’s privatisation.
The refinery holds a historic significance for the Assamese as it is a fruit of the historic Assam Accord signed in 1985 between All Assam Students’ Union and the Central government. The BPCL holds 61.65% stake in the refinery.
Terming it as an “Accord Refinery”, Sonawal asked the PM to maintain “PSU status of NRL even if BPCL is privatised”.
However, none of these worries the central government, which is pushing forward the PSU sales to meet the fiscal deficit target. The target, as announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech in July, is to raise a record Rs. 1.05 trillion—from Rs. 90,000 crore—for the current fiscal.
“Mr. Modi often boasts himself as a chaiwala who’s now holding the prime minister’s post. A chaiwala, at the end of the day, is happy only when everything in his shop is sold. It seems that the same logic is applied by the present regime,” said one of the speakers while commenting on the aggressive disinvestment of the public sector units under the BJP’s rule. He ventured, “Mr. Modi will only be happy when every resource that belongs to the nation will be sold.”