‘If need be, agitation will be scaled up to force the Centre to rethink its decision’
Trade union leaders, irrespective of their affiliations, have joined hands and vowed to ensure that the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) is not privatised.
“The trade unions and employees are on the warpath, and they will fight tooth and nail the proposal to sell VSP to a private player,” Tapan Kumar Sen, general secretary of CITU, told the media here on Saturday. Leaders of various trade unions were present.
“Thirty-two persons had been killed in police firing during an agitation seeking establishment of the VSP in 1966. If required, the agitation now will be scaled up to a level that forces the Union government to rethink its decision,” Mr. Tapan Sen said.
The Union Government had in the past tried to sell many PSUs such as IISCO in Burnpur, Durgapur Steel Plant and NLC India, but due to sustained agitation by the employees and unions, it had to drop the proposal. “The VSP’s case will also be the same,” he said.
“The VSP is the only shore-based integrated steel plant that does not have a captive iron ore mine. On the contrary, private steel plants such as Jindal has captive mine of its own,” he added.
“It is a ploy not to allot captive mines to the VSP so that it incurs losses, thus enabling the private players to acquire it at a throwaway price,” he observed.
On whether the doors of court could be knocked, Mr. Tapan Sen said the VSP was set up as a corporate entity and not by an Act of Parliament, as in the case of HPCL or BPCL. “Going to court is no solution, but sustained agitation is,” he said.
“Steel plants are national assets and cannot be listed under non-strategic industries. Public sector steel plants are a lifeline for democracy and the cities in their vicinity,” AITUC general secretary Amarjeet Kaur said.
“PSU steel plants are a source of employment. Those directly employed and lakhs of others sustain on it. Hence, VSP cannot be privatised,” she said.
People of Visakhapatnam had parted with land for a PSU steel plant, and it cannot be handed over to a private player now, she argued.
Besides allocating captive mines, the Centre should also look into the VSP’s debts, she said, and added, “VSP has taken loans for its expansion from 3.3 MTPA to 7.3 MTPA. The Centre has not supported its expansion. On the other hand, the VSP has paid dividends and taxes of over ₹40,000 crore to the government,” she said.
In this context, Mr. Tapan Sen said the VSP had never defaulted in paying interest on loans to the banks. “But private companies have defaulted and cheated the banks, and closed their shops. The government has asked the banks to write off their debts,” he said.
D.K. Pandey of BMS, a labour union affiliated to the BJP, said it was opposed to privatisation of all the PSUs, including the VSP. The Centre should come clear on “where, how and why there is a loss in the VSP,” he said.
Mantri Rajasekhar Reddy of INTUC, G. Rambabu of TRS Trade Union, Ratnakar of TNTUC, Adinarayana of AITUC, Ch. Narasinga Rao of CITU, and Riyaz Ahmed of HMS spoke.
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