Thousands of workers of BEML Limited (Bharat Earth Movers Limited) have started an indefinite strike since early January 2021, against the central government’s move to privatize the strategic public sector undertaking.
The government has announced its plan to disinvest its 26% equity share capital, out of its shareholding of 54.03%, along with management control in BEML. On January 3, the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) had issued a preliminary information memorandum in which it called for a two-stage competitive bidding process for disinvestment of BEML. It set the minimum net worth requirement for bidders at Rs 1,400 crore. As per the memorandum, non-core land and other assets of the company will be hived off and will not be part of the divestment.
The coordination committee of BEML Employees’ Association in Bengaluru immediately launched an indefinite protest demonstration in front of its head office there. The Employees Union in Palakkad began the protests against privatisation from January 6.
BEML is a strategic PSU. It has been described by its employees as a public sector “miniratna category 1” company. It operates in three major business areas – Mining & Construction, Defence & Aerospace, and Rail & Metro – and has achieved a total revenue from its operations of Rs 3,028.82 crore in 2019-20. BEML is the only PSU that manufactures metro rail coaches in India. The company has served orders from Bengaluru, Jaipur, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai. The assets of the company are estimated at over Rs 50,000 crore, including 205 acres of land in Bengaluru, 530 acres in Mysore, 2,400 acres in Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) and 375 acres in Palakkad.
Earlier too there had been several attempts by the government to privatise BEML, but these attempts had been unsuccessful due to the protests of the workers. The workers have expressed their apprehension that its precious assets are going to be handed to private monopoly capitalists and throwaway prices if the central government’s plans succeed.
The disinvestment of this profit-making and important strategic public asset is being resolutely opposed by all the employees’ unions in all its units. Protest actions have been organised in all the 9 units of BEML across Karnataka and Kerala. The workers are determined to continue the protest, which has been going on for more than 40 days now, until the government withdraws its decision.
As reported by the general secretary of BEML Employees Union, from February 12, a vehicle rally has been initiated covering various talukas of Palakkad district, to raise public awareness against the privatization of BEML. A Jana Sabha, including several elected representatives from Palakkad district, was conducted in front of BEML Palakkad complex on February 13. On February 17, a people’s ‘protest wall’ is planned to be erected at the Palakkad unit, carrying the message of the protest.
The BEML employees’ unions have called upon all trade unions in the country to support their agitation and demand that the government roll back its plan for divestment of BEML.