All seven gates of the Visakhapatnam steel plant were blocked by protesting employees on the morning of Thursday, September 30, as the Union government is set to hear the presentations of bidders to be engaged as the legal advisor for the strategic sale of the Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL), the corporate entity of the Vizag steel plant. Worker unions under the Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Committee (Committee for conservation of Visakha Steel) intensified agitations, stating that even if the legal advisor was appointed, they would not allow them to step into the plant to prepare estimates and go ahead with the disinvestment process.
Since the Union government approved the 100% strategic disinvestment of its shareholding in the Vizag Steel Plant in January, the workers’ unions, trade unions and political parties in Andhra Pradesh have opposed the move to privatise the steel plant. A relay hunger strike that began in February completed 230 days on Wednesday, September 29.
“The NDA government is going ahead with appointing a legal advisor today without taking the feelings of the people of Andhra Pradesh into consideration. Even if they finalise someone through online presentations today, ultimately they have to come here in person. We will not allow any multinational corporations or private persons to enter the plant,” an employee part of the blockade on Thursday told the media.
In July, the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) of the Union Ministry of Finance had invited proposals for the engagement of transaction advisors and legal advisors to complete the 100% disinvestment of government holdings in RINL. After extending the deadline for submitting the bids several times, DIPAM has shortlisted five bidders who are scheduled to present their technical proposal in front of a selection committee online on Thursday evening.
Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi several times urging him to reconsider the privatisation of the plant while suggesting ways to turn it into a profitable venture. The protests have gained state-wide attention, with the history of the establishment of the steel plant repeatedly evoked, as several protesters agitating in its favour had lost their lives. The movement against privatising the steel plant has also been associated with the state’s pride over the past year, with the slogan “Visakha Ukku Andhrula Hakku” (Visakha steel is the right of the people of Andhra) regaining prominence. Pawan Kalyan, whose Jana Sena Party is in an alliance with the BJP, recently said that his party would soon step up the steel plant agitation in October.
Watch: The controversy over Vizag Steel Plant explained