Hyderabad: The water transportation workers’ unions are up in arms against the proposed privatisation of Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) as the central government on Tuesday invited buyers for its entire shareholding of 63.75% in the entity. The unions are arguing that the national security of the country will come under threat with privatisation.
“Privatisation has become a common threat to all public sector units and the country's valuable assets under the current regime,” said Manoj Yadav, General Secretary of Forward Seamen’s Union of India (FSUI). He added, “The ‘navaratna’ SCI has been a profit-making entity and has been a symbol of pride for India in the international shipping sector. While many developed nations have their shipping corporations in the public sector, it is not understandable why the current government wants to privatise it.”
During the first six months of the current financial year, the entity made a record profit of about Rs 495.11 crore. The profit was recorded as Rs 381.64 crore during the financial year 2019-20.
Yadav further said that thousands of members of FSUI will participate in protest demonstrations across SCI units in the country opposing the privatisation. “After discussing with other unions, we will announce a strike call against privatisation,” said Yadav.
The SCI has about 3,281 employees including nearly 2,000 seafarers. Over 6,000 unorganised workers are also associated with the entity.
Members of Shipping Corporation Staff Union and Water transport Workers Federation of India have said that they will jointly organise protests in front of all SCI offices across Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
Narendra Rao, General Secretary of Water Transport Workers Federation of India, said that the very national security of the country will come under threat if the SCI is privatised. “With privatisation, accountability in the export-import sector of the country will become compromised. The national security will come under threat as illegal business activities such as supply of contraband, arms etc. may escalate,” he said.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, seafarers who worked as frontline fighters were neither appreciated by the government nor any additional compensation was announced for them,” added Yadav.
Opposing privatisation, all employees and workers of the SCI participated in the November 26 general strike called by the 10 central trade unions.
As on November 30, the SCI owns a fleet of 59 vessels consisting of 2 container vessels, 13 crude oil carriers, 15 dry bulk carriers, 1 LPG/ ammonia carrier, 2 multi-purpose supply vessels, 8 off-shore supply vessels, 13 product carriers and 5 very large crude carriers.
While the divestment proposal of the SCI first came in 1998 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, in April 2003, a cabinet committee on divestment had decided to suspend any divestment in the SCI.
In its expression of interest, the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) has called for companies with a minimum net worth of Rs 2,000 crore to be eligible for participation in the bidding process for SCi. Interested bidders will have to submit initial bids by February 13. According to officials, the SCI is worth about Rs 2,600 crore at the current market prices.