Oppose the Privatisation of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited!

Twelfth meeting organised by Kamgar Ekta Committee in the series  “Unite Against Privatisation!”

Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) organised a public meeting on 30 May 2021 to oppose the privatisation of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL). It was attended by nearly 300 leaders and participants from steel, railways, insurance, port & docks, electricity, petroleum, BSNL and others. This was the 12th meeting in the series “Unite against Privatisation”, started in September 2020. Previous meetings dealt with privatisation of railways, banks, insurance, coal, petroleum, port & docks, education and electricity distribution.

VIzag_Steel_Plant_Bandh
VIzag Steel Plant Bandh (file photo)

Com Mathew, Secretary of KEC, welcomed the participants and explained that through these webinars KEC was attempting to forge unity around the common struggle against privatisation. He said we are meeting at a time of a national COVID-19 pandemic which has devastated our people, entirely due to the negligence of the Central Government. Thousands of frontline workers from Steel, Electricity, Health. Railways, Banks, Insurance, and Coal etc. have fallen ill and died of the infection. But the workers from these sectors have continued their service to the Indian people braving all these hardships.

He then welcomed the invited speakers, Com Ch. Narsinga Rao, Chairman, Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Committee and President, CITU Andhra Pradesh State Committee, Com. J. Ayodhyaram, Convenor, Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Committee (VUPPC) and President, Steel Plant Employees Union (CITU), Shri Rajashekar Mantri, General Secretary, Visakha Steel Employees Congress (INTUC) and Vice President, INTUC AP State Committee, Com. D. Adinarayana, President, Visakha Steel Workers Union (AITUC), Dr. P. Satynaranyana, General Secretary, Steel Executives Association, RINL, Prof K. Nageshwar, Professor, Department of Communications and Journalism, Osmania University and ex-MLC, Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, Prof K. S. Chalam, Professor of Economics, Andhra University and ex- Vice Chancellor, Dravidian University, Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh, Com. Lalit Mishra, General Secretary, Steel Workers Federation of India (CITU) and Com. M. Saibabu, Coordination Committee of Central Public Sector Undertakings, Telangana.

He also welcomed the large number of national leaders from various all India federations and associations who were attending the webinar. He welcomed Com. Amanulla Khan, President, All India Insurance Employees Association (AIIEA), Com. Dipak Kumar Saha, Co-Convenor, Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees Federations of India, Com. R. Elangovan, ex-General Secretary, Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU), Com K. N. Satyanarayana, General Secretary, Hindustan Petroleum Employees Union (Vishakhapatnam), Com S. P. Singh, General Secretary, All India Guards Council(AIGC), Com D. Vara Prasad, Secretary General, All India Train Controllers Association(AITCA), Com. Abhimanyu Dhankar, Secretary General, All India Federation of Power Diploma Engineers (AIFPDE), Com. K. V. Ramesh, Senior Joint General Secretary, Indian Railways Technical Supervisors Association (IRTSA), Com Nirmal Mukherjee, Ex- General Secretary, Chittaranjan Loco Works (CLW) Labour Union (CITU), Com. S. K. Kulshreshtha, Ex-Vice President, All India Station Masters Association (AISMA), Com Amzad Baig, President, All India Pointsmen Association (AIPMA), Com N. R. Sai Prasad, Central Organising Secretary, All India Pointsmen Association (AIPMA), Com Aftab Khan, President, Sanchar Nigam Executives Association (SNEA)- BSNL, Com. Naib Singh, General Secretary, Rail Coach Factory (RCF) Men’s Congress (NFIR), Rae Bareilly, U.P, Com Joe D’Souza, Vice President, Central Railway Mazdoor Sangh (CRMS), Com Custodio Mendonca, General Secretary, All India Port and Dock Workers Pensioners Association, Com P.S. Sesodia, Central Vice President and Director Education, National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR), Com. Rohit Mishra, Organising Secretary, Rail Coach Factory (RCF) Men’s Union (AIRF), Rae Bareilly, U.P., Dr. Pradeep Sharma, General Secretary, Diesel Loco Works (DLW) Men’s Union (AIRF), Varanasi, U.P., Com R. G. Pillai, Joint General Secretary, Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU), and Com Pranav Kumar, President, Dadar Branch, All India Rail Track Maintainers Union (AIRTU).

The first presentation was by Com Ashok of KEC who gave the background of the steel sector in India and put forward the views of KEC about tasks ahead of the working class in India.

VIzag_Steel_Plant_workers_demonstration
VIzag Steel Plant workers demonstration (file photo)

The presentation was followed with the speeches of the invited speakers. The highlights of the speeches of Com. Ch. Narsinga Rao, Chairman, Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Committee (VUPPC) and President, CITU AP State Committee and of Com. Lalit Mishra, General Secretary, Steel Workers Federation of India (CITU), are given in the accompanying boxes.

A number of speakers elaborated on the background of RINL. They pointed out its significance for the country and for Andhra Pradesh (AP). It is the only integrated steel plant in South India and also the only sea shore steel plant in the country. Lakhs of people are dependent on RINL.

The central government has been trying to privatise RINL since the 1990s and turning it into loss-making plant to justify its privatisation.

The government of India has so far spent only Rs. 4900 crores to set up RINL; the corporation has given back more than Rs. 45,000 crores as dividend and taxes to the central government and around Rs. 9000 crores to the state government. When the capacity was expanded from 3 million tonne per annum (mtpa) to 7.3 mtpa, the central government did not give a single paisa for this.

RINL has not been allotted any captive iron ore mines even after so many years of its existence. This is the only public sector steel plant not having a captive mine in the country. On the other hand, NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation) is supplying iron ore to RINL at the market rate.

Gangavaram port was built on RINL land to serve the steel plant. But now the port has been handed over to Adani. As a result of this, RINL has lost its strategic advantage of being a sea-shore plant.

If RINL is privatised, the income the government is getting in terms of tax, dividends, etc. will stop. The private owner will be driven only by their greed for maximum profit. The government wants to hand over RINL to POSCO, the South Korean group. POSCO is notorious for its anti-worker policies.

Many of the speakers talked about the valiant fight the workers have been waging against the repeated attempts to privatise RINL. When it was declared on 27th Jan 2021 that RINL will be privatised, all the unions including those of executives and contract workers came together to form Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Committee (VUPPC) and organised various protest actions. VUPPC organised many programs mobilising tens of thousands of people. A relay hunger fast in front of the RINL gates has been going on for the past for the past 108 days. A protest sit-in has been in progress in front of the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) since the last 60 days. VUPPC has also organised a joint programme of farmers and workers to build their solidarity. All central trade unions as well as the Kisan movement have participated in this struggle. RINL workers got support from all corners of the country.

The leaders declared that all the unions are determined to carry on their agitation till the government takes back its decision to privatise RINL. They are confident of winning their fight against the privatisation with their united action and with the support of the people. They urged the other sector workers to unite with them in this fight.

Many leaders expressed their appreciation of the KEC for organising the webinar which is an important step towards building the unity and solidarity of all public sector workers for the ongoing struggle in RINL. The experience of the RINL struggle so far is a good example for those who are fighting to save the public sector all over the country. It is inspiring how they could mobilise all the unions as well as enlist the support of the people of Andhra Pradesh. The public sector can be protected with people’s struggles and participation. Trade unions must talk to people and involve them in anti-privatisation struggles, like RINL has done. This conference has helped in broadening it to an all India struggle and many speakers thanked KEC for that. They agreed that workers, peasants and people at large have to build up a united struggle against privatisation.

Shri Rajashekar Mantri, General Secretary, Visakha Steel Employees Congress (INTUC) and Vice President, INTUC AP State Committee said that at this crucial time this webinar, with the participation of leaders from other public sector units, will give a boost to their fight.
Irrespective of political affiliations we must unite and fight against privatisation. The government is not bothered about the welfare of the people. People are working under threat to their lives in RINL and many other public sectors during this pandemic. During these trying times RINL has also supplied thousands of tons of liquid oxygen to many other states for treatment of Covid patients.

Prof K. Nageshwar, Professor, Department of Communications and Journalism, Osmania University and ex- MLC, Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly pointed out that just the 20,000 acres of prime land belonging to the RINL is worth Rs. 1,00,000 crore and that of the entire plant and infrastructure are worth around Rs. 2,00,000 crores. The Union Steel Minister however estimated the asset value to be around Rs. 30,000 crores only. This was obviously to help the capitalist monopolies who want to buy RINL cheaply: the aim of the government is nothing but privatisation of profits and nationalisation of losses.

Due to the government’s refusal to allot captive mines to RINL, it loses around Rs. 5260 per metric tonne of iron ore, which it has to buy at market rates. This translates to an annual loss of Rs. 3542 crores to RINL. Moreover, the steel industry is known for its cyclic character. Even the private sector has been making losses during the last few years. When the private sector goes into the red, the banks are told to absorb the losses which become Non-Performing Assets. Unlike the private sector, RINL has never defaulted on any payments despite making losses. RINL posted a monthly profit of 200 crores in December 2020.

Prof K.S Chalam, Professor of Economics, Andhra University and ex-Vice Chancellor, Dravidian University, Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh pointed out that the public sector has existed in our country since antiquity. In Kautilya’s Arthashastra it is said that the State took responsibility for irrigation and the development of agriculture, textile production, mines, etc. From ancient times, the state was duty bound to look after the welfare of its people. Today we have a system in which the monopoly capitalists control the governments.

Com. J. Ayodhyaram, Convenor, Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Committee (VUPPC) and President, Steel Plant Employees Union (CITU) informed that the central government tried to sell 50% of the shares of RINL to private players in the year 2000 at a price of about Rs. 2000 crores each. But the private players wanted 51% of the shares so that they could exercise control. In 2004, when RINL made a net profit of Rs. 2008 crores, the central government was ready to sell it for the price of one just year’s profit! Again in 2012, they tried an IPO (Initial Public Offering) but the workers defeated them. In 2018, the South Korean Company, POSCO wanted to set up a rolling mill in the RINL plant premises. But RINL already had 6 rolling mills which are adequate for the present capacity of 7.3 million tonnes. If POSCO had been allowed to set up another rolling mill, the rolling mills of RINL would have become idle. Workers opposed this proposal and it fell through. Now POSCO is conspiring to buy RINL completely at a throwaway price.

Dr. P. Satynaranyana, General Secretary, Steel Executives Association, RINL informed the meeting that on 4th April 2021, the Steel Executive Federation of India (SEFI) has unanimously decided to demand the strategic merger of steel PSU’s. A single giant steel enterprise should be formed by merging Steel Authority of India (SAIL), its subsidiary companies, RINL and its subsidiary companies, Neelachal Ispat Nigam Limited (NINL) as well as NMDC. This proposal is in line with the recommendation of the parliamentary committee for PSU’s, submitted in 2013. Merging them into a single unit will enable synergy among them. It will be then possible to successfully compete both within the country and overseas. A strong steel industry is essential for growth of the economy so it should be considered a strategic sector.

Com. M. Saibabu, Coordination Committee of Central Public Sector Undertakings, Telangana pointed out that even defence production units as well as those of other sectors are being privatised rapidly. Disinvestment has already been carried out by 49% in BEL (Bharat Electronics Limited), 25% in BDL (Bharat Dynamics Limited), and HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), 46% in BEML (Bharat Earth Movers Limited), Disinvestment of 25% in BHEL, 35% in the Steel Authority of India (SAIL), 33% in Coal India Limited (CIL), 31% in NMDC, 47% in BPCL, 40% in ONGC< 46% in HPCL, 48% in NTPC and 48% in Power Grid Corporation has already taken place.

Many leaders from railways, electricity, Neelachal Ispat Nigam Limited, Hindustan Shipyards and other sectors also spoke and appreciated the efforts made by KEC in this webinar series to unite the working class of India against privatisation.

At the end Comrade Mathew announced that the next two webinars in this series would be on BSNL and the privatisation of health care in India.

Highlights of the speech by Com. Ch. Narsinga Rao, Chairman, Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Committee (VUPPC) and President, CITU AP State Committee.

The announcement of the policy of liberalization, privatization and globalization policy and the commencement of steel production at RINL both took place in 1991. Since its inauguration by PM Narsimha Rao, the ruling class and all the Central governments have been trying to privatize RINL by various means.

The government does not want to solve the problems of RINL Many proposals have been made, such as allocating captive mines to RINL, but to no avail. The finance minister declared in parliament that no matter what, the government will privatize RINL.

Despite all efforts of the ruling class over more than two decades, it could not succeed due to the united opposition of RINL workers and the people of AP. Due to the pressure of people, the AP State Assembly passed a resolution on 22nd May 2021 opposing the central government’s decision to privatize RINL.

All seven vice chancellors of Vishakhapatnam, several intellectuals and the people of the state have come out in support of the RINL workers. One weakness of the movement is that workers of different sectors are fighting in isolation. Unions of banks, insurance, coal etc. have gone on strike several times but these separate struggles are not enough. They should also take the people into confidence. All sections of people need to be mobilized in this struggle. RINL workers have already taken a step in this direction by inviting kisan andolan leaders to Vishakhapatnam and organising a huge public meeting.

The RINL workers are confident that they will win!

Highlights of the speech by Com. Lalit Mishra, General Secretary, Steel Workers Federation of India (CITU)

Between 1991 and 2014 the Central Government realised Rs. 1,52,000 crores by selling public assets. From 2014 to 2019, it realised Rs. 2,31,500 crores and since then, the sale of public assets has been further speeded up.

The attempts to privatise various units of Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) have also been going on for many years. On 21st September 2016, the Prime Minister’s Office approved the strategic sale of Alloys Steel Plant (ASP) in Durgapur, West Bengal, Salem Steel Plant (SSP) in Salem, Tamil Nadu and Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Plant (VISP) in Bhadravathi, Karnataka. These are all special steel plants owned by the public sector SAIL. Global Tenders for Expression of Interest (EOI) for strategic sale of these special steel plants were invited but in spite of repeated extensions of the last date nobody evinced any interest. This was because of the strong united movement built up against privatization of these steel plants by all the federations.

Immediately after the announcement of the strategic sale of the three special steel plants, a meeting of trade union leaders was arranged at Rourkela on 20th Dec 2016.

All out efforts were made to build a strong unity and coordination among National Joint Council of Steel unions and regional/plant level unions. The entire workforce of steel workers was galvanized on a common platform. Steel Executives Federation was also brought into the framework of unity. Various initiatives for organizing were taken. A plan was drawn up for a sustained struggle with joint meetings, conventions and campaigns.

A massive Convention, attended by central trade union leaders and leaders from all the steel plants, was held on 20th January 2017 at Bhilai and an all-Trade Union Preparatory Committee was formed. The Convention resolved that “under any circumstance, steel workers shall not allow privatization of these very important assets and facilities of national importance.”

This Convention sent a strong message to the Government and SAIL and even to the likely bidders that steel workers will go to any extent in their fight to defeat privatisation of the special steel plants.

A joint Convention of unions from ASP, SSP and VISP was organized at Salem on 27th March 2017. It gave a strike call for April 11, 2017 to be observed by three special steels plants and other steel plants by organizing protest movements and blockades of all entry gates of steel plants from 5 am to 9 am as a mark of solidarity. This strike was organized successfully in the three steel plants.

A day long massive dharna of steel workers of all steel plants of India, affiliated with all trade unions, was organized in front of the Parliament on 9th August 2017. Braving heavy rains on that day, thousands of steel workers including executives from all over the country demonstrated their opposition to privatization.

Simultaneously with the national programs and conventions, local plant level agitations were organised at ASP, SSP and VISP. This showed the determination of the workers not to allow any private player to take over the steel plants.

During this pandemic, the steel workers have continued their work despite being unable to maintain social distancing while carrying out their duties. This has resulted in a large number of workers falling ill and more than 400 workers have died all over India, including 82 in RINL alone.

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