No question of privatising Vizag Steel Plant, says Steel minister HD Kumaraswamy; Employees heave a sigh of relief

The Union minister, after a review of the status of the steel plant, told reporters that the question of privatisation did not arise at all.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Jul 11, 2024 | 7:01 PM Updated Jul 11, 2024 | 7:01 PM

The Visakhapatnam Steel Plant. (Supplied)

The assertion of Union Minister for Heavy Industries and Steel HD Kumaraswamy on Thursday, 11 July, that under no circumstances the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) will be privatised came as comforting news to the employees of the plant who have been fearing the befalling of joblessness upon them.

The Union minister, after a review of the status of the steel plant (Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited) with officials, told reporters that the question of privatisation did not arise at all.

He said he held the review to submit a report to the prime minister on the status of the plant to work out a revival package.

Also Read: ‘Will you help steel plants or sell them off?’ Congress asks HDK

‘Aware of dependency of employees’

Asserting that the VSP will contribute significantly to the economic growth of the state, he said the Union government was seized of the issue of protecting it.

He said he was aware of the fact that a number of employees were dependent on the survival of the VSP and that was why the centre was examining the issue carefully.

Kumaraswamy also emphasised that the protection of the VSPP was the responsibility of the Union government.

He hoped that before long the VSP would be working at full capacity.

The Union Minister said that an official announcement that VSP would not be privatised would be made after discussing the issue with the prime minister.

“This is the reason why I have come here and examined the issue from all angles with the officials. I will soon be submitting a report to the prime minister. There is the possibility of reviewing it. We are working at it,” he said.

Also Read: Salem steel plant sale scrapped: Congress says victory of those who opposed ‘ill-thought move’

Anxiety among employees

Ever since the decision regarding Kumaraswamy’s visit to the VSP was finalised, there has been anxiety among the employees over the fate of the plant.

The people of Andhra Pradesh have a sentimental attachment to the VSP and its privatisation is always considered an onslaught on them.

The plant materialised in Visakhapatnam in 1982 after a protected agitation and death of 32 people.

For more than three years, the employees have been under the grip of fear that the VSP might be privatised.

The employees have been demanding that the VSP should be merged with the Steel Authority of India (SAIL).

A delegation of BJP MPs recently made a representation to Kumaraswamy to abandon the proposal for privatisation and sought to convince him that its merger with SAIL would be mutually beneficial for them.

Also Read: Why Centre’s nod to petrochemical complex is TDP’s win

The demands of employee unions

Ever since the Union government began contemplating selling the VSP, about three years ago, the employees have been agitating.

They also made several representations to the Union government to furnish working capital to the VSP to make it up and going. The employees are also seeking concessions in the procurement of iron ore and allotment of iron ore mines to the VSP.

Employees, who are about 75,000, both direct and indirect, argue that the VSP’s production has come down to 2.8 million tonnes from its full capacity of 7.2 million tonnes over a period of three years.

For quite some time now, the machinery of the VSP has been lying idle as the management had no working capital. One blast furnace was switched off in 2022.

In March, employees’ unions took out a padayatra from Kurmannapalem to the GVMC Gandhi Statue, demanding an immediate halt to the attempts to privatise the VSP. They were critical of the previous Jagan Mohan Reddy government for not resisting the privatisation move effectively, afraid of annoying the BJP dispensation at the centre.

The employees seek an infusion of ₹13,000 crore to make the VSP work at full capacity and in the event of the Union government not being able to come up with that kind of capital, the easy way out is to merge it with SAIL.

They also want a tax break for two years to help the VSP stand on its feet.

(Edited by Muhammed Fazil)

(South First is now on WhatsApp and Telegram)