A People’s Parliament was organised on March 23, 2021 at Dharna Chowk opposite GVMC, Visakhapatnam. Against the backdrop of three farm laws of the Modi government and the privatisation of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation had organised this event. In its press note CPIML said, ‘On March 23, 1931 Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev sacrificed for the independence of the country. The Modi BJP government is selling the country’s public sector, banking, insurance, energy, space and defence.’ This event was attended by Dr. Navkiran Natt, Editorial Board Member, Trolley Times; Brijen Tiwari, Bhilai Steel Plant, AICCTU National Committee Members; N. Murthy, CPI ML (Liberation) Central Committee Members and B. Bangarao, CPI ML (Liberation) AP Secretary.
Dr. Navkiran Natt who spoke at the occasion said, ‘we demand on behalf of the farmers to unconditionally repeal the three farm laws by the Union government, as they will facilitate handing over of agriculture from farmers to the hands of agri-corporate companies.’ Talking against the attempts of the government to privatise the Visakha Steel Plant, Natt noted that VSP cannot be privatised as it is one of the biggest shore based integrated plants and lakhs of families are dependent on it in one way or the other. Brijen Tiwari said that employees from all public sector steel plants, including from the SAIL, are with the employees of the VSP and support the struggle.
On March 8, the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs has in principle given approval for a hundred percent disinvestment of the Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd (RINL, Visakha Steel Plant, VSP). The steel plant is an employer to 17,500 permanent employees, out of which 6,000 are executive officers and rest are the non-executive workers. VSP also has 30,000 contractual employees and 16,000 of them are permanent contract employees (the contractor would be changed from time to time and not the employees). Along with this workforce, 30,000 maintenance staff are also employed. The total strength of the workforce in the plant is a mammoth 50,000. Around one lakh people in and around Visakhapatnam directly or indirectly are associated with the steel plant.
Workers of the plant, civil society in Andhra Pradesh, and several concerned citizens have been relentlessly protesting against this move of the central government.
EAS Sarma, a retired IAS officer had written a letter to the Prime Minister on February 2, 2021 and yet again on February 26, 202. In this letter Sarma observed, ‘More than half a century ago, there was a massive people’s movement here that resulted in the Central government setting up the steel plant near Visakhapatnam. The governments of the State and the Centre had initially tried to suppress that movement but it was the will of the people that ultimately prevailed… Around 22,372 acres of fertile agricultural land were acquired forcibly for the steel plant in the name of a “public purpose”, which under the provisions of the land acquisition legislation as existed at that time defined as ‘land required for a corporation owned by the government. In other words, when the local farmers were forced to part with their lands, they were assured that the land in question was needed for a public sector undertaking (PSU), that would be bound by the social policies of the government in the matter of recruitment of its employees and that it would create social assets all around for the larger benefit of the people.’
He further explained, ‘If the PSU were to be privatised now, it would not only violate the statutory provisions under which such a large extent of land was acquired at that time but also constitute a breach of the public trust.’
The National Steel Policy (NSP) 2017 states (Para 4.15.4) that it is the intention of the government that ‘ the CPSEs will also be encouraged to take leadership role in development of steel industry & the community, adopt a more inclusive business model, increase their CSR spends, invest in R&D for indigenous design & engineering and product development for replacement of import. Further, CPSEs will also be encouraged to take lead in promoting steel usage through developing steel intensive structural designs for roads, railways, bridges, crash barriers etc. with proper technical consultations and setting up of service centers for more customized and decentralized product delivery’. Thus, Sarma in his letter notes that ‘by deciding to privatise VSP, your government will be making a mockery of that objective.’