Protest during Corona: NINL employee sending postal letters to Lutyens in protest

  • A trade union leader at NINL has discovered a novel way of protesting — that of ambushing the leaders and decision-makers of India with hardcopies of letters until they are moved into action

  • The Centre plans to privatise NINL but the plan is now in jeopardy because of the COVID-19 crisis, and meanwhile, employees have not been paid for 6 months

New Delhi: Distances matter. Geography does too. How else does a brief spell of shower in New Delhi make it to the news, and the financial crisis at a state-run company based in Odisha where employees have not been paid for the last six months not merit urgency on national TV? The POV from New Delhi is certainly different. However, driven to desperation by the delay in the decision-making process at the Centre and the limitations posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, a trade union leader at NINL has discovered a novel way of protesting — that of ambushing the leaders and decision-makers of India with hardcopies of letters until they are moved into action.

NINL crisis: A protest that targets the mailboxes of who’s who in New Delhi

Ranjan Nayak, the General Secretary and Convenor of Neelanchal Bachao Militia Mancha, says that he was pushed to taking to this form of protest because of the administration was not according permission for protest or dharna on streets because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a reasonable man — as often people who espouse non-violent means of protest are — Nayak agreed with the administration that protests at this time would put everyone who attends it at risk of COVID-19 infection.

“I didn’t have any other option, except this. It has been six months without salaries. NINL employees are amidst deep financial crisis. One of our contractual employees has already committed suicide. The ministerial meeting, which is supposed to take a call on the fate of NINL and its employees, has been postponed four times. But for us, the crisis is only driving us to the brink with each passing day. And this needs to be communicated,” says Nayak. 

A high-level ministerial meeting was supposed to take place between Minister for Corporate Affairs Piyush Goyal (the administrative ministry for NINL’s primary promoter MMTC), Steel Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) Secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey on Monday, but it has been postponed to August 13 now, according to sources. This meeting has been postponed four times since June, when NINL employees had first protested against the delay in payment of salaries. The ministers are supposed to take a call on NINL privatisation plan, which is now in jeopardy because the steel industry has taken a severe hit because of the COVID-19 crisis. Since MMTC, the primary promoter of NINL, has refused to infuse funds and the NINL plant has shut down operations fully since March 27, the company does not have funds to pay salaries to its employees. The ministerial meeting will also take a call on the arrangement of funds for NINL.

Letters of protest

In the meanwhile, back in Kalinganagar in Odisha, Nayak is busy making neat stacks of letters, with handwritten addresses on the front. Between July 20 and August 1, Nayak has dispatched 50 letters in total and plans on sending out a lot more to everyone and anyone who has some influence and who, Nayak thinks, can make a difference. So far, letters have been sent to President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Cabinet Ministers, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, amid several others. 


I ask Nayak about how many more hardcopies of letters does he plan on sending, he says that he doesn’t know. And then, after a minute’s pause, he quips, “As many as it takes to get them to notice us.” The trade union leader is not the only one sending letters. Ajit Kumar Pradhan, General Secretary of Neelanchal Executive Association, is tasked with reaching out to Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha MPs, MLAs, among others, on email or telephone to build support for their cause. Letter-writing has emerged as one of the ways for aggrieved PSU employees to register protest in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and therefore, all the trade union leaders at NINL are writing letters of protest of asking politicians to write letters to the Centre. However, Nayak is certainly the only one sending hard copies to New Delhi.

But despite all the labour, Nayak has not received any response so far from anyone. Does he really think hardcopies will stir the Centre into action? “I don’t know. I have no idea what will the result be. But I am trying. And I will try until I see some change,” he says.

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