‘Will you help steel plants or sell them off?’ Jairam Ramesh asks new union minister HD Kumaraswamy

Ramesh asked if HDK would provide a written commitment to not sell the plants to the "prime minister's industrialist friends."

BySouth First Desk

Published Jun 11, 2024 | 4:51 PM Updated Jun 11, 2024 | 4:51 PM

Jairam Ramesh questions HD Kumaraswamy

A day after the allocation of Union cabinet portfolios, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, posed five questions regarding the privatisation of steel plants, to the newly appointed Union Minister for Steel and Heavy Industry, JD(S) MP HD Kumaraswamy.

In an open letter addressed to Kumaraswamy, Jairam Ramesh questioned if he would protect the Vizag, Salem, Nagarnar, Visveswaraya, and Durgapur steel plants, or help the “ek tihayi (one-third)” prime minister to sell them to “his industrialist friends.”

Among the five, three steel plants are from south India— Vizag (Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited) in Andhra Pradesh, Salem Steel Plant in Tamil Nadu, and Visveswaraya Iron and Steel Plant in Karnataka.

Also read: As Modi visits Vizag, why are steel plant workers seething in anger?

Vizag steel plant

Speaking of the RINL, commonly referred to as the Vizag steel plant, Ramesh recalled the widespread protests, that took place in January 2021, against the privatisation of the enterprise.

He further said, “More than one lakh individuals rely on the Vizag Steel Plant for their livelihoods.  Employees of the Steel Plant report that deliberate Government negligence is pushing the once-thriving Steel Plant into increasing losses.”

Questioning the newly appointed minister, Ramesh asked if he would provide a written commitment to not sell the plant to the “prime minister’s industrialist friends.”

The Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs (CCEA) in January 2021 gave in-principle approval for 100 percent strategic disinvestment of the central government’s shareholding in RINL, along with management control, by way of privatisation.

Demanding that the Centre roll back its call, thousands of RINL’s Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) employees had protested.

The approximately 10,000 workers of the steel plant had boycotted work on 11 November 2022, to protest against Modi’s visit to Vizag.

Their demand was that the Centre must roll back its decision to privatise the Navaratna steel maker RINL, the flagship company of the Vizag steel plant.

In the recently concluded Assembly polls, the NDA alliance- TDP government has won a landslide victory in Andhra Pradesh.

Salem and Visveswaraya

The Salem steel plant of Tamil Nadu too saw similar protests in 2019, against the privatisation of the enterprise.

Drawing parallels to the Vizag steel plant, Ramesh said, the plant covering about 25 villages has been “intentionally mismanaged.”

He further said that the workers alleged that the “Leadership of Steel Authority of India Limited had been reduced to a mouthpiece for the ruling party.”

Questioning the Mandya MP, Ramesh asked if he would revive the Visveswaraya Iron and Steel plant at Bhadravati in their mutual home state of Karnataka.

Claiming that the previous regime had initiated the shutdown of this steel plant in October 2022, Ramesh said, they gave the excuse of “plant not having a captive iron ore source in Karnataka.”

Calling it a “bold-faced lie”, Ramesh said, “Bhadravati is less than 250 km away from Ballari. In fact, a mining lease was allocated to SAIL in October 2011.”

Ramesh questioned if the new minister would revive the plant.

Nagarnar and Durgapur

The Congress leader further alleged that the prime minister had tried to privatise the Nagarnar Steel plant of Bastar when they sold the 50.79 percent of stakes to “cronies” in 2020.

However, in the lead-up to the Jharkhand Assembly elections, Home Minister Amit Shah had promised to not privatise the plant.

Ramesh once again questioned the minister if he would be true to the said promise.

He also alleged that the prime minister had tried to sell the Alloy Steel plant of Durgapur.

While the government seemed to have backtracked on the decision, Ramesh said, “People of Durgapur and West Bengal have little confidence in the government.”

He urged Kumaraswamy to reassure the people that he will not oversee the privatization of the steel plant.

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(Edited by Sumavarsha Kandula)