The Joint Action Council (JAC) of workers at the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) has asked the Railway Board to cancel the outsourcing contracts given to private players for manufacturing coaches and threatened to launch the second phase of its stir “to resist the move at all costs.”
Addressing a press conference, JAC representatives said they suspected malafide motive behind the Board’s resolve to go ahead with the outsourcing plan which would not only allow private players free access to the ICF’s intellectual property of coach design drawings but also entail additional expenditure of over Rs. 120 crore.
The actual loss to government would be even higher accounting for provisions in the contract to supply steel, traction equipment and wheel sets free to the contracting firm, they said.
The JAC, which had launched a tool-down strike on the issue on March 6, had postponed its agitation plans after an assurance from Railway higher-ups that the intellectual property of the ICF and interests of its workers would be protected.
“Now, the Railway Board is claiming that it cannot back out of its contractual obligations. But, our stand is that handing away ICF’s intellectual property rights valued at around Rs. 1,500 crore free of cost to private firms is against the interest of the ICF and the nation,” said S. Anandaraj, JAC convenor.
400 EMU coaches
The Board has signed contracts valued at over Rs. 600 crore for manufacture of about 400 EMU coaches with three Kolkata-based companies — Titagarh Wagons, BESCO and Jessop — besides the public sector undertaking Bharat Earth Movers in Bangalore. The JAC claims that tender procedures were violated in awarding these contracts.
“If the Board’s contention is that the outsourcing is being done to meet coach shortage, we want to point out that the ICF and the RCF Kapurthala could together produce well over 400 extra coaches at much lesser cost,” T. Manoharan said.
For successive years, the ICF has been achieving record coach outturns. During 2012-13, it manufactured 1,620 coaches, JAC members pointed out. This is when three of the contracting firms have been declared “sick units” by the West Bengal government and lack basic manufacturing infrastructure, they said.
“The blatant nature of the contract is that while the ICF and RCF got the rights for manufacturing LHB type coaches after shelling out about Rs. 160 crore, here the whole set of designs and drawings are being offered on a platter to private players,” said S. Ramalingam, JAC coordinator.
The JAC representatives have already raised the issue with a cross section of MPs across the political spectrum such as Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, Union Minister for Shipping G. K. Vasan and Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI). They will also seek an audience with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, they said.
T. K. Rangarajan, Rajya Sabha MP and CPI (M) central committee member has written to the CBI seeking a probe into the outsourcing contracts which were approved and finalised when scam-tainted former Union Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal held the portfolio.
“In view of the large-scale corruption charges from the Ministry of Railways, I would like your Department to examine whether the move by the Railway Board to transfer design drawing of ICF to private manufacturers has malafide intentions, and if so, to take appropriate action…’, says Mr. Rangarajan’s letter addressed to CBI Director Ranjit Sinha dated May 16.
Mr. Rangarajan, who had raised the issue with Mr. Bansal himself and called for a withdrawal of the Railway Board order, also attached a copy of the former Minister’s reply in which it is claimed that “in case of coach manufacture, transfer of design of coaches which are not covered by any IPR regime is necessary to conform to desired specifications’ and that “any order on the private sector would be placed only after ensuring that the full capacity of the production units have been utilised.” Meanwhile, T. R. Baalu, chairman, Railway Standing Committee has also asked the Railway Board to cancel the contracts.