Employees and trade unions in Visakhapatnam have been steadfast in their opposition against the privatization of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, marking nearly a thousand days of continuous protest. These groups, united under the Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Committee, have successfully impeded the privatization process, which was initiated by the Centre's decision in January 2021. The plant's lack of captive iron ore mines has been a significant issue, leading to high production costs and financial losses, which protesters argue is a deliberate strategy to justify the plant's sale.
In the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, a determined group of employees and trade unions are nearing a milestone of a thousand days of protest against the privatization of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant. The VSP, an entity of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL), has been the subject of a strategic sale decision by the Central Government that has faced staunch resistance from its workforce.
The opposition to this decision coalesced into the formation of the VUPPC, a committee dedicated to preserving the public ownership of the plant. Since the announcement by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in early 2021, the committee has actively worked to scuttle the valuation and sale process, with significant incidents of employee-led resistance, such as the prevention of valuation committee members from assessing the plant's blast furnaces.
This agitation has delayed the privatization process significantly, as the necessary valuation report remains incomplete, preventing the progression to the stages of Expression of Interest and bidding. The VUPPC remains adamant that the plant should not be privatized and suggests an alternative in which the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) could take over, highlighting precedents where government reconsideration occurred due to similar protests.
The VSP holds an emotional significance for the people of Andhra Pradesh, having been established after a decade of protests and tragic losses. The plant, which commenced production in 1988, is not just a steel mill but a symbol of regional pride and resilience.
Financially, the VSP has seen profitable years, including FY 2021-22. However, losses in the following year have been cited by protesters as intentional, to lay the groundwork for privatization. A critical issue for the plant's financial viability is the lack of captive iron ore mines, which results in high raw material costs that other steel plants, including private ones, do not bear.
As the VSP operates below its full capacity due to these challenges, the VUPPC demands the allotment of iron ore mines to ensure profitability and operational efficiency. Recent proposals to privatize parts of the plant, such as the third blast furnace, have met with promises of vigorous opposition from the Steel Employees' Association (SEA).
The prolonged protest against the privatization of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant is a vivid demonstration of the workforce's commitment to the preservation of public assets. The issue transcends mere economics, tapping into a deep-seated emotional connection and a fight for equitable resource distribution. The outcome of this thousand-day struggle may set a significant precedent for how industrial transitions are managed in India, balancing progress with the livelihoods and sentiments of those most affected.