Massive Protests by Workers and People Against Centre’s Privatisation Plan of Visakhatnam Steel Plant

(The Centre’s decision on 100% disinvestment in Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited, the corporate entity of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, has triggered massive protests in the state. The state observed a total Bandh against privatization of this plant called by Trade Unions and other mass organizations. IFTU has organized several programmes against this privatization including a well attended Convention on the issue. This privatization has seriously agitated workers and people of Andhra Pradesh.)

Massive protests erupted in Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd. (RINL) in Visakhapatnam better known as Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) on 8th March (Monday), 2021 following a statement made by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman in the parliament that the Centre would go ahead with privatization of the Steel Plant on 100% disinvestment.

A Navaratna PSU (Public Sector Unit) since 2010, RINL’s Visakhapatnam Steel Plant is India’s first shore-based integrated steel plant. VSP with a capacity of 3.0 MTPA of liquid steel was started in 1992. Subsequently its capacity was enhanced to 6.3 MTPA in 2015 and to 7.3 MTPA in 2017. VSP has recorded an annual turnover of Rs.20844 crores in 2018-19. The products of RINL include bars, wire rods, pig irons, billets etc.

The government acquired over 22,000 acres of farm lands from 64 villages on the sea coast for the steel plant to come up. Now about one lakh people are dependent on the steel plant, including 17,000 permanent employees and workers and 16,000 contract workers. VSP was established in 1988 after a prolonged ‘Visakha Ukku – Andhrula Hakku’ movement in which 32 people laid down their lives. Four MPs belonging to Andhra region had resigned from Parliament on the demand of setting up this plant as a part of the movement on the issue.

A large number of oustees for setting up the plant are yet to be rehabilitated and they and their descendants have been agitating on this issue.

In 2011, Centre had decided to sell 10% of its stake through an initial public offering (IPO). But the plan had been kept on hold for various reasons including protests by workers of the plant until the decision to privatize it completely now. However, Central Govt. did not help the functioning of the plant and captive mines were not allotted to the plant despite long standing demand for the same.

Privatization for Imperialist Interest

On February 10, Union Minister of Steel Dharmendra Pradhan went on record in the Rajya Sabha favouring giant corporate South Korean company POSCO to establish a steel plant on the RINL’s lands. Replying to a question raised by YSR Congress MP Vijayasai Reddy, the minister stated, “The POSCO has evinced interest to set up a steel plant on RINL’s land”.

Pradhan added, “Shareholding pattern has not been determined at this stage. However, as per MoU, POSCO wishes to have at least 50% of shareholding while the shareholding of RINL would be worked out on the basis of valuation of its contribution of the land for setting up of the plant.”

The Modi government’s disinvestment motivation unveils its plans for sale of the steel plant to imperialist corporate entities.

Agitation against privatization

Following the centre’s announcement to privatize VSP, thousands of employees and workers held a protest demonstration at the plant. They blocked the traffic on the Visakhapatnam-Kolkata National Highway (NH 16) till midnight, raising slogans against the centre’s unilateral decision and demand to roll it back. Later, the workers squatted near the steel plant gate al through night. Next day morning the protesters laid siege the administrative block of the RINL and refused to allow senior officials from entering the plant’s premises. Workers gheraoed Director of the plant and held him captive for nearly six hours refusing to allow him into the office. Various Trade Unions including IFTU talked with the top management which assured to take up the workers demand with the centre.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy under the heat of protests expressed his resolve to lead an all-party delegation to Prime Minister requesting to drop disinvestment moves.

Intellectuals, academicians, researchers of the area expressed their strong opposition to the government’s proposal to give up the RINL’s lands to a private entity. A successful state Bandh has been observed against this privatization plan.

Sale of these lands to private companies is nothing but a breach of public trust and in violation of the statutory provisions under which the lands were acquired then by the government. Protesters also added that the experience of the Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL)’s smelter unit, located in the vicinity of the steel plant, was divested to a private company two decades ago, left a bitter taste for the locals. The unit shut without adequate compensation paid by the company to those thrown out of employment. The management entrusted with the PSU plant is accused of diverting 360 acres of land acquired for it from farmers for real estate business.

Workers said we shall intensify our agitation. There no question of allowing steel plant to be sold out to the corporate. It is a question for us of do or dies.  The Joint Action Committee (JAC) has decided to continue the agitation with a long-term approach on the lines of the farmers’ protests in Delhi until the government withdraws its privatization plans. Trade Unions have come out in support of this agitation. A number of political parties and mass organizations of different sections are also lending support.