‘Can Minister Kumaraswamy give in writing that he will not privatise steel plants’: Jairam Ramesh

Jairam Ramesh questioned whether the new Union Minister for Steel and Heavy Industry would protect the Vizag, Salem, Nagarnar, Visveswaraya, and Durgapur steel plants or allow them to be sold to industrialists.
Jairam Ramesh
Jairam RameshIANS
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Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has posed five questions to the newly appointed Union Minister for Steel and Heavy Industry, HD Kumaraswamy on the potential privatisation of key steel plants. In an open letter, Jairam Ramesh asked whether Kumaraswamy would protect the Vizag, Salem, Nagarnar, Visveswaraya, and Durgapur steel plants or allow for them to be sold to industrialists.

He recalled the widespread protests in January 2021 against the privatisation of RINL (Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited) in Andhra Pradesh, commonly known as the Vizag Steel Plant, noting that over one lakh individuals depend on it for their livelihoods. He accused the government of deliberate negligence, leading to the plant's financial struggles.

In an apparent reference to Adani and Ambani, Jairam Ramesh asked if Kumarasamy can provide a written commitment that he will not sell the Vizag Steel Plant to the ek tihaayi (one-third) Prime Minister’s industrialist friends. 

“The previous administration of the ek tihaayi Pradhan Mantri had proposed the sale of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL), commonly known as the "Vizag Steel Plant'', to the Pradhan Mantri's friends…Employees of the Steel Plant report that deliberate Government negligence is pushing the once-thriving Steel Plant into increasing losses,” he added.

Jairam Ramesh cited similar protests at the Salem Steel Plant in 2019 due to the government’s decision to disinvest the plant.

“The plant covers an area of almost 25 villages, 18 or 19 of which have disappeared since the plant was built. Workers alleged that the plant was being intentionally mismanaged, and that the leadership of Sail Authority of India Limited (SAIL) had been reduced to a mouthpiece for the ruling party. The Union government has been unable to sell the plant so far. Will Kumaraswamy fulfil the ek tihaayi Pradhan Mantri's dreams of privatising this plant?” he asked.

In his letter, Jairam Ramesh also addressed the Visveswaraya Iron and Steel Plant in Bhadravati, Karnataka, questioning whether Kumaraswamy would reopen the plant which was closed in October 2022 under the BJP regime. He challenged the rationale that the plant lacked a captive iron ore source, labelling it a "bold-faced lie" given its proximity to Ballari, where a mining lease was allocated to SAIL in 2011.

He further alleged that the Prime Minister had attempted to privatise the Nagarnar Steel Plant in Bastar in Chhattisgarh by selling a majority stake of 50.79% to "cronies" in 2020. Despite Home Minister Amit Shah's promise during the Jharkhand Assembly elections not to privatise the plant, Jairam questioned Kumaraswamy on whether he would uphold this commitment.

“The people of Bastar hoped that this mammoth Rs. 23,800 crore plant would bring major impetus to the development of Bastar and create thousands of opportunities for local youth. In reality, the ek tihaayi Pradhan Mantri has been planning to privatise this plant since 2020, when they decided to sell a majority stake of 50.79% to their cronies,” he said.

Regarding the Alloy Steel Plant in Durgapur, Jairam noted that while the government appeared to have retreated from privatisation, there remained a lack of confidence among the people of Durgapur and West Bengal. “Can Mr. Kumaraswamy reassure the people of Durgapur and West Bengal that he will not oversee the privatisation of the steel plant?” he asked.

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