Around 3,000 employees of Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC), including technicians and engineers, who helped produce many a piece of equipment for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), are now forced to sell edibles and garments. These HEC employees, forced to engage as part-time daily wage workers, including driving autorickshaws, have not been paid their rightful salaries for the last 20 months.
HEC is India’s oldest public sector unit which supplies equipment to all major steel plants. It was the mother plant that helped make way for the development of several major steel plants across India including the plants in Bokaro, Bhilai, Rourkela, Vishakhapatnam and Durgapur. HEC has three divisions - the Heavy Machine Tools Plant (HMTP), the Heavy Machines Building Plant (HMBP) and the Foundry Forge Plant (FFP) which jointly manufacture equipment.
However, many HEC employees have drawn out most of their provident fund, with some even having to take on loans to get by. Their children, whom they could afford to send to private schools in the past, are now forced to study at government schools.
Devendra Kumar, who has been working with the HEC since 1993, is forced to sell readymade clothes, including gamchas (towels) and ladies garments in Shalimar Bazar near old Vidhan Sabha. Mr. Kumar, who still works at the HMBP, attends the office from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., following which he doubles as a salesman of clothes. Mr. Kumar runs a makeshift shop along the roadside, one among a beeline of many streetside stalls.
Mr. Kumar, who hails from Bihar’s Nalanda district, says, “It’s very difficult to survive without a regular salary. I an unable to support the education of my three children who are pursuing degree courses in Ranchi. My eldest son wanted to study medicine but we did not have money for his admission. The situation is such that no one lends us money as well because they know that we are financially broke.”
Mr. Kumar will retire from the HEC in 2026 and hopes for a repayment of his full salary so that he can support his family upon his retirement.
Another employee, Umesh Nayak, works part time as an autorickshaw driver. “After 5 p.m., I drive an auto to earn my ‘bread and butter’ so that my family can survive. In a month, I manage to earn ₹10,000 to ₹12,000. I am not alone, there are several employees of HEC who are into part time jobs to sustain their family members. Some sell vegetables and some others are also selling golgappas (a street-side snack) to make ends meet. We are running out of patience as it’s been a long time, we have not received our salary,” says Mr. Nayak.
Ajay Mirdha, another HEC employee, sells momosat Argoda Chowk. His entire family is involved in this business, including wife Manju Devi, who runs the stand in the morning, and son Priyanshu Mirdha, who handles afternoons along with his sister Priyanka Kumari, a class IX student. Once Mr. Mirdha returns from the office at 5 p.m., he takes over.
“We always try to hide our identity because it would be quite shameful if people come to know that I work for India’s oldest Public Sector Undertaking and am still forced to sell momos. Whatever savings I had left got over last year itself and I could find no other solution except the sale of momos.I still hope that the government of India understands our pain and releases our salaries,“ Mr. Mirdha said.
Ashok Ram, another employee of HEC, has become a daily wage worker in Dhruva locality. A father of three daughters and a son, Mr. Ram and his wife Yashoda Devi work as daily wage workers earning ₹450 per diem.
“My children used to study in Yogoda School, which is a private school. However, I could not afford to pay their fees on a regular basis and was forced to shift them to Jagannathpur Rajkiya Madhya Vidyalaya,” Mr. Ram said.
In December 2013, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Ranchi to address an election rally in which he had expressed his disappointment over the condition of HEC. Ten years down the line, not much has changed as some employees claim that it is on verge of shutting down.
P.D. Mishra, a manager in the Material Management Division in HMBP and general secretary of HEC Officer’s Association, pointed out that absence of a full-time chairman-cum-managing director has led to the unprecedented delay in payment of employees’ salaries. Mr. Mishra said that officials of Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited have been given the additional charge.
On its official website, the HEC boasts of having manufactured the Folding cum Vertically Repositionable Platforms for space vehicle integration, horizontal sliding door, mobile launch pedestal, special purpose 400T and 200T electric overhead traveling cranes, and tower cranes.
“The entire nation was celebrating the success of Chandrayaan-3 but what about the engineers and technicians who gave their blood and sweat to manufacture its launch pad? If anybody claims that HEC did not provide a launch pad, they are lying. We manufactured the launch pad which was used for Chandrayaan-3 but still await our pay,” Mr. Mishra said.
“Manufacturing work for another launch pad is underway and 30% of the work has been completed. Our engineers and technicians are still working day and nigh. But the Government of India is not paying any attention to our problems. In February 2023, several other unions and associations had met Mahendra Nath Pandey, the Heavy Industries Minister, but eight months later nothing has happened. Roughly around ₹130 crore is required to settle the pending salary,“ Mr. Mishra added.
Rama Shankar Prasad, general secretary of HEC Workers’ Association, blamed the top management for the delay of employees’ salaries. “Had the top management given their honest effort, our workers would have not been facing the prospect of penury. Only the Centre is responsible and they should release the money as soon as possible,” he stated.
Kamlesh Sharma, Inspector (Quality Control) of HMTP, said that in 2010 former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had visited HEC and had stressed that India needed such an organisation, but “the current government at the Centre has turned blind to us,” he added.