THE Steel Plant Employees’ Union, Visakhapatnam (CITU) gave a clarion call to the permanent and contract employees of the state-owned Vizag Steel Plant for a 26-km rally on April 5. More than 4,000 workers started the march at 5 AM from the steel plant main gate and reached Vizag city central park at 12 noon, with massive response and solidarity from the public, fraternal trade unions and several mass organisations at 22 different points. The SPEU (CITU) highlighted the issue of allocation of captive mines to Vizag Steel Plant against disinvestment of shares, and employment opportunity for the displaced people. It was a sea of red flags in the city!
Vizag Steel Plant has been functioning as a PSU for the past 30 years and has been deprived of captive mines. The lacunas in the implementation of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act has raised uproar among the public. The injustice meted out to the state as also Vizag Steel Plant has aroused the sentiments of over 30,000 workers in the steel plant. The preparation for the march began with distribution of 1,50,000 pamphlets, 30,000 posters, and department, section and shift wise meetings to mobilise the workers. A 10-km “Walk for Mines” was organised on March 19. An oath-taking programme was organised at the martyrs’ centre on March 30, in which Sri EAS Sarma, former energy secretary to the Government of India, participated.
Since its inception in 1990 after a sacrifice of 32 lives, Vizag Steel Plant is facing the threat of privatisation due to neoliberal policies of the successive governments. Several attempts were made by the Congress government also to divest government shares. On every occasion, the CITU stood strong, resisted and built a movement against the disinvestment proposals, irrespective of whether it was the recognised union or not. The governments could not divest even one per cent of the shares because of the united struggle built by the CITU. With structural reforms and disinvestment proposals in mind, no government has allocated mines to Vizag Steel Plant. The lack of captive mines is a major cause of concern for Vizag Steel Plant, as procurement of raw materials comprises 50 per cent of the annual production costs, while it is only 20 per cent for the plants having captive mines. All other steel plants, whether private or public, have their own mines. The cost of raw material for Vizag Steel is Rs 4,000 per metric ton, while it is only Rs 500 per metric ton for plants having own mines. Even known offenders such as Gali Janardhana Reddy and others, who have not established any steel plant, have been allotted captive mines, but Vizag Steel Plant has not been allotted mines despite several struggles. Hence, due to the injustice of the government, Vizag Steel Plant is incurring losses for the past three years. The government also proposes disinvestment of 10 per cent of its shares, by undervaluing the Rs 2-lakh crore assets of Vizag Steel Plant at a paltry Rs 4,890 crore. The 20,000 acres of land itself is an asset worth Rs 1 lakh crore. This is gross injustice to an industry supporting the lives of over 30,000 families!
On a PIL, the AP High Court has showcaused the AP government, questioning the reasons for not allotting mines to Vizag Steel Plant.
The march culminated with a public meeting at Vizag City central park, in which CITU state president Ch Narasinga Rao, state secretary M A Gafoor, and Steel Plant Employees’ Union leaders J Ayodhyaram, N Rama Rao and Y T Das delivered speeches. Addressing the meeting, Gafoor gave a clarion call to fight till captive mines are allotted and the government withdraws its disinvestment proposals. The march has instilled confidence among the public and the workers that the CITU will stand up to the cause of the people.