Earlier this month, the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) ordered the liquidation of the factory.

A bitter future Why the workers of Nizam Sugars are calling for a government takeoverAll images: Charan Teja
news Crisis Friday, June 28, 2019 - 08:23

The Nizam Deccan Sugars company looks deserted now, a far cry from its former glory days during the reign of Nizam ruler Mir Osman Ali Khan in 1937. At the time, the factory was said to be the largest sugar factory in Asia and the biggest employer in the state.

Those days are in the past, however. Earlier this month, the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) ordered the liquidation of the factory. The development has left labourers and staff members in a state of cluelessness. 

Recent issues with the company began in December 2015 when the management unceremoniously laid-off about 160 labourers citing the lack of raw material and water, given the severe drought in the region. Many of the labourers were left on the street to fend for themselves, and the factory remained out of operations. 

But labourers formed a Joint Action Committee that is now urging the government to take over the factory and company, located in Shakkarnagar (Sugar City), as promised in the elections. 

T Bikshapathi, 58, sat near the main gate of the factory, where he worked for close to three decades, under the shadow of a tree where he regularly meets his peers to discuss their future. 

"It’s been more than three years. We were literally doomed with no income in hand. Survival itself is becoming a problem. At this age no one can give us jobs. The Telangana government should take the responsibility for this misery," Bikshapathi said. 

‘Our future fell to uncertainty’

Upendar, 49, another labourer who was working as a mechanic, said that the trouble began in 2002. At the time, the TDP government of Chandrababu Naidu in united Andhra Pradesh had turned the factory into a joint venture in a move to privatise it through a Public-Private partnership. The Delta Paper Mills of Gokaraju Ganga Raju, a former BJP MP, was given a 51% share, while the state government took 49%.

Before 2002, the Bodhan unit alone used to employ more than 3,000 labourers, aside from thousands of dependent labourers and farmers. But as many were “forced” to take voluntary retirement from service, the number of employees slowly reduced in the following years.

“The promise of making it a public company disappeared and our future fell to uncertainty. We are being crushed between the government and private management of the company,” Bikshapathi said. 

Upendar noted, "The Telangana government was never interested in fulfilling its promise and they deliberately ignored the NCLT invitation to take over, though the investment is not big compared to many other schemes."

Until 2015, the company was working seasonally, producing sugar and alcohol byproducts. It also owns four units, including a distillery on the same premises and ones in Medak and Karimnagar districts. 

That same year, months before the company lay-offs, the KCR government issued GO 28, which sought to annul the joint venture agreement between Nizam Sugars and Delta Paper Mills by paying reasonable compensation to take over the joint venture. 

It was the government’s effort to continue factory operations under the supervision of a co-operative society or sector, but activists and labourers alleged that the government has neglected the issue.  

A bitter future?

M Srinivas 46, another labour who is presently running a flour mill out of desperation, says, "Earlier, we used to get around Rs 18,000 per month. Now with nothing coming in, my children’s studies have been disturbed. I had a lot of plans that are all gone now.” He added that many have chosen to work as daily wage labourers in construction sites in the town or nearby in Nizamabad.

Bikshapathi, recalling the factory’s storied history, says, "Gone are the days where we had sweetness in life. All that is left is bitter. Our future remains in the hands of government."

While the workers are currently demanding that the state government to absorb the company, the Telangana government is yet to appeal to the NCLT liquidation orders in National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT)  in Delhi.

Many believe that a government takeover of the company would help the region’s development as it would generate employment, instead allowing the private parties to allow Nizam Sugars to languish.

Ravi Shankar Goud, Nizam Sugars Mazdoor Sabha Union General Secretary, said, "The state government had appeased labourers saying that it would absorb the company. The company was well into operations, without issues, when the lay-offs occurred. Government officials did not stand in the way of the private management’s lay-offs.”

He added, "the government hasn't shown any interest in absorbing the company through a consensual resolution. It has behaved in an absurd manner due to which company may go into the hands of private parties.”

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