The Central Government has put on hold, the privatisation of Central Electronics Limited (CEL). The letter of intent (LoI) for sale of 100 per cent government shareholding in CEL to Nandal Finance & Leasing has not been issued, according to the Secretary of Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM), which is in charge of the privatisation process. The government is examining the objections raised by the employees’ union to the privatisation of CEL, he said.
On October 27, 2016, the Union Cabinet initiated the sale process of CEL. There have been two attempts to sell CEL so far. In the first attempt, six preliminary bids were received, but no financial bid came. The second attempt was initiated in February 2020. Two companies put financial bids in October 2021. In November 2021, Nandal Finance and Leasing, which had offered Rs 212 crores for buying CEL, was selected as the highest bidder. The government had planned to complete the sale of CEL to this company by March 2022.
The workers of CEL have been unitedly opposing privatisation. For the past four months, there have been continuous protest actions staged by the joint platform of employees’ unions at CEL’s Sahibabad factory. Cutting across party affiliation, unions have come together under one banner to oppose privatisation. The unions took their struggle against privatisation to the Delhi High Court. In December 2021, the trade unions raised the issue of irregularities in the bidding and sale process with the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). It is reported that the CAG is now investigating the bidding and sale process.
The National Confederation of Officers’ Association (NCOA) and National Forum of the Executives of Central Public Sector Enterprises has condemned the decision to sell CEL. Former directors and retired senior scientists of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratories have urged the government to take back its decision to privatise CEL. In a statement, they have pointed out amongst other things, that Nandal Finance and Leasing has no fixed assets, no land and buildings, and not even a single employee of this company has completed five years of tenure.
CEL is a public sector enterprise under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research of the Ministry of Science and Technology. It was established in 1974, with the objective to commercially exploit technologies developed by National Laboratories and R&D institutions in the country. CEL is in four businesses namely, a) Railway Safety & Signalling Systems; b) Defence (Strategic) Electronics; c) Solar Photovoltaics and d) Security Surveillance Solutions. It has developed several products for the first time in the country through its own research and development efforts as well as in collaboration with other government laboratories like those of CSIR and DRDO. CEL is a pioneer in the field of use solar energy for electricity production. It has developed a number of critical components for strategic applications and is supplying these items to the Armed Forces. It is a company working at the cutting edge of technology. Despite all this, the government is ready to sell CEL to a private company which has no experience in any of the technologies CEL is involved in.
Nandal is a finance company, as is evident from the name. Finance companies are known for buying companies cheap, making quick profit by any means and selling the company at much higher price after a few years to another Indian or foreign capitalist.
The workers of CEL have pointed out that CEL is a profit-making company with orders in the pipeline worth over Rs. 1500 crores. and Rs. 132 crores as collectible dues from the government agencies. It has 50 acres of land in the National Capital Region (NCR), today valued at over Rs. 500 crores.
They have also pointed out that the central government went out of the way to ensure the sale at any price. When the bids were first invited in September 2018, it was mentioned that the bidder will have to continue the business in its entirety for five years. Similarly, the bidding company should have been earning profits for last five years. In 2021, these conditions were completely omitted. This effectively meant that anybody, even without any experience of running such a business, could bid and use land and machinery for any purpose.
The plan of the government to privatise CEL is anti-national, anti-people and anti-worker. It is part of the agenda of the ruling bourgeoisie which wants to enrich itself through globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation.
Workers of CEL have been able to prevent the sale of their company to the private company Nandal Finance and Leasing for now. However, the government has not given up its plans to hand over this company to private parties. In the 2021-22 budget, the government had announced its decision to privatise all except a handful of public sector companies. This has not changed. Privatisation of CEL remains on the agenda of the government.
Workers of CEL must remain vigilant and step up their struggle against privatisation.