Government’s offer to purchase NLC’s divested stake creates hopes

The pro-public sector enterprise image, after the AIADMK government offered to purchase the Neyveli Lignite Corporation stake to be divested, has renewed hopes among Hindustan Photo Films (HPF) employees that the State will push their case for reviving the company.

A Central public sector undertaking, HPF, and its INDU brand were popular names for nearly three decades in medical x-ray, industrial x-ray and graphic art films. HPF was also into processing chemicals.

But its fortune changed with increased competition, popularity of digital films and change in duty structure.

The Hindustan Photo Films Manufacturing Company with its Udhagamandalam unit spread over hundreds of acres and a smaller unit at Ambattur, Chennai, is today a shadow of its own self.

Work at the units remains halted for at least six months now, for want of working capital.

Members of the Save H.P.F Committee, a body comprising different trade unions and officer’s association, say around Rs.70 crore is needed to get the units running.

The company, referred to BIFR in 1995 and recommended for winding up in 2003, the employees say, remains technically viable with skilled manpower. The company had obtained a stay from Madras High Court against further proceedings of BIFR.

Committee Secretary R.Moses Manoharan says government hospitals rely on the cost effective medical x-ray films and switching to digital films was not affordable. Similarly, HPF industrial x-ray films have a huge market in the defence sector.

The revival, Committee members G.Jayaprakash and L.Jayakumar say, meant a lot to the 750 employees of HPF, bulk of them at the unit in The Nilgiris district. The Ambattur unit has around 55 employees.

All their hopes were dashed after salaries stopped coming. “The March 2013 salary was the last we got. Even what we were getting was based on the 1987 salary scale. Prior to stoppage of work and salaries, there was no communication from the government,” complain B.K.Gautum, a member of the Committee.

Leaders of the State, they say, are familiar with the issue.

“They hear and promise to look into our case, but nothing has happened. HPF website says “a revival plan is under active consideration of the Centre.”

Mr.Manoharan emphasises on early implementation of the Rs.302 crore revival plan and from which around Rs.30 crore was given as working capital in 2010.

Bulk of the revival amount is towards the one time bank loan settlement of Rs.200 crore. The demand includes salary revision. In the 2012-13 MoU with the company, details of which are on the Department of Heavy Industries website, the Union government committed to “take expeditious action on early approval of Cabinet for revival and turnaround of the company.” It requires additional efforts, similar to those initiated by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to thwart NLC stake from being acquired by private parties, to infuse life back into HPF, the employees say.

Given the keen interest shown by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the NLC issue, they also want the opposition party to pursue their case with Centre. On their part, the employees are on a relay fast at the main unit for around 80 days.

When The Hindu contacted HPF Managing Director S.Girish Kumar three days consecutively, on all the occasions he hung up saying he was busy.