Is the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant agitation losing its steam?

Members of Visakhapatnam Ukku Porata Parirakshana Committee staging a dharna against the privatisation of VSP in Visakhapatnam.

Members of Visakhapatnam Ukku Porata Parirakshana Committee staging a dharna against the privatisation of VSP in Visakhapatnam. | Photo Credit: File photo: K.R. DEEPAK

In January 2021, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the 100% strategic sale of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL), the corporate entity of Visakhapatnan Steel Plant. Since then, the employees and union members from various political fronts have been staging an agitation, which at one point of time had scaled a good height.

But of late, the tempo of the agitation appears to have slowed down, especially at a time when the Union Government had already appointed the legal advisory committee and the transaction advisory committee. It has also recently short-listed three firms from 10 companies who had bid for the appointment of the valuation committee.

“It appears that the agitation is losing its steam, and we need to revive it as soon as possible,” feel many of the leaders from various trade unions, who are also part of the Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Committee (VUPPC).

VUPPC is the umbrella committee consisting of all unions and employees that has taken up the fight against the privatisation move.

One main reason cited by the VUPPC leaders is the lack of strong support from the Members of Parliament, including from the ruling party, in the State.

The steel plant was set up in Visakhapatnam after a long struggle in which over 30 people had lost their lives in November 1966. This was followed by the resignation of about 66 MLAs and about 7 MPs from the Left parties. The slogan ‘Visakha Ukku- Andhrula Hakku’ had rocked both the houses of Parliament.

“But that kind of support seems to be missing. The MPs from the ruling YSR Congress Party on the face of it appear to support our agitation, but it is not translating into a strong demand in Parliament. They may have their own political agenda or equations, which is not helping the agitation here,” said J. Ramakrishna of AITUC and member of VUPPC.

“Coming to the MPs from the Left parties, hardly there are about 10 of them in both the Houses combined. They are not being heard properly and their voices are being stifled,” he said.

The VUPPC members had some hopes from the TDP MPs, but even they failed to raise the issue to the desired level. “Probably, even they have some political compulsions in the State and are unable to outrightly go against the BJP-ruled Union Government,” said Ch. Adinarayana, president of AITUC and one of the co-chairmen of VUPPC.

“Only the Prime Minister has the power to rule out the privatisation, but none of the MPs could obtain an appointment with him,” he added.

Sources in VUPPC say that a deal is already in the making and a top Indian company may collaborate with a South Korean steel major to buy the plant at a very nominal price.

Without naming the Indian company, the VUPPC leaders said that though the Indian company has no steel plants so far, it has been allotted iron ore mines and it already has coking coal and boiler coal mines. It also has got ports in its kitty, said Mr. Ramakrishna.

Talking about the way ahead, Ch. Narasinga Rao, State Secretariat Member of CPI (M), and co-chairman of VUPPC, said, “We are aware that the committees are being formed, but so far we did not allow any member of the committee to get inside the plant. Without physical verification the valuation cannot be done. And we have decided to stop them at least till the next General Election in 2024.” This he said probably assuming that the government will change and things can be reverted.

Mr. Adinarayana said that plans are afoot to scale up the agitation to the level of 1966-70 agitation. “We intend to go to the people and the students. It was the students of Andhra Medical College, AVN College and Andhra University, who had then led the agitation from the front,” he said.

He also hopes that the political parties such as TDP, JSP and YSRCP, would also join them before the General and Assembly elections, as 8% of the voters consist of PSU employees and those associated with PSUs, including ancillaries and mining sector.

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Printable version | May 24, 2022 1:34:11 pm |