Hyderabad: On Wednesday morning over 1,000 employees and workers of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant held a protest demonstration in its premises against the Centre’s attempts to privatisate the plant’s corporate entity – Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd (RINL).
The recognised workers union of the steel maker has called for a dharna on February 5, urging all its workers, employees and political parties to assemble at the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation office in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam.
It has been reported that the Union Cabinet has recently approved the privatisation of RINL in which the central government owns a 100% stake.
“While approving the strategic disinvestment of RINL a few days ago, the cabinet delegated powers to the Alternative Mechanism headed by the Finance Minister to decide whether the subsidiaries of RINL will be part of the transaction, depending on the feedback from potential investors,” The Hindu BusinessLine quoted a government official on the cabinet’s decision.
Jyesta Ayodhya Ramu, president of the plant’s recognised workers’ union says that the workers and the people of Vishakapatnam will not allow the Central Government to privatise the plant.
“About one lakh people are dependent on the steel plant, including 17,000 permanent employees and workers and 16,000 contract workers. The plant was established in 1988 after a prolonged struggle to set it up in Visakhapatnam. In the Visakha Ukku – Andhrula hakku movement 32 people laid down their lives and 70 legislators, including MPs and MLAs, resigned from their posts demanding that the PSU is set up there. It is now the biggest PSU in the state and the people will not allow private entities to take over it,” he said.
He urged all the political parties, including the ruling YSRCP and the opposition parties like the Telugu Desam Party, CPI(M) and the CPI to joint the workers in the struggle against privatisation.
The steel plant has a capacity of 7.3 million tonnes per annum with two subsidiaries – The Orissa Minerals Development Company Ltd (OMDC) and The Bisra Stone Lime Company Ltd (BSLC) – and runs RINMOIL Ferro Alloys Pvt Ltd, an equal joint venture with Manganese Ore (India) Limited Company (MOIL) and RINL Powergrid TLT Pvt Ltd, also an equal joint venture with Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd.
Last year, under the directions of the Union Steel Ministry, RINL signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with South Korean Steel Corporation POSCO company to set up a joint venture on the plant’s land in Visakhapatnam.
Trade Unions have opposed the proposed joint venture with POSCO calling it a “conspiracy” to privatise the plant.
RINL incurred net losses worth Rs 1,321 crore in 2017-18 and a net profit of Rs 96 crore in 2018-19.
“It is only in recent years that the plant was incurring losses, mainly owing to the crisis in the steel industry. Another main reason is due to the non-allotment of captive mines in spite of numerous requests. The plant can expand and revive on its own with minimal government support,” explained a Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader.
“It must be recalled that the Central Government has invested Rs 4,900 crore into the plant since its inception but the state government had made an investment of about Rs 42,000 crore. The plant has about 22,000 acres of land in Vishakapatnam,” said Ayodhya Ramu, adding that the plant has so far paid about Rs 37,000 crore to central and state governments.
Despite opposition from opposition parties and trade unions, the Narendra Modi-led Centre is going forward with its PSU privatisation spree; it set a target of Rs 1.75 lakh crore from divestments and strategic sales in the financial year 2021-22.
On January 25, the central government sought Expression of Interest (EoI) for the strategic disinvestment or privatisation of the Odisha-based Neelachal Ispat Nigam Ltd (NINL). Employees of the steel unit have been protesting demanding the government consider the loss making NINL with RINL or SAIL or other steel PSUs for its revival.