20,000 rally across India to protest against BPCL privatisation

At least 20,000 PSU employees in the oil sector across the country took part in the nation-wide protest against the plan to privatise state-run BPCL
20,000 rally across India to protest against BPCL privatisation

New Delhi: At least 20,000 PSU employees in the oil sector across the country took part in the nation-wide protest against the government's plan to privatise state-run BPCL on Thursday. Demonstrations and marches were organised at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar, BPCL's Kochi refinery and Tuticorin LNG plant and Mumbai refinery, Mangalore in Karnataka and Numaligarh in Assam. The strike call was issued by the three apex federations of trade unions in the oil PSU sector — All India Petroleum Workers' Federation (AIPWF), National Federation of Petroleum Workers (NFPW) and Petroleum & Gas Workers' Federation of India (PGWFI).

'Unprecedented show of strength'

"This was an unprecedented show of strength. Even by a conservative estimate, the all-India turnout was 20,000, including regular and contractual employees. Obviously, it is a reflection of the anger amidst workers against privatisation," said Swadesh Devroye, CITU's All India Secretary. He added that around 50 workbase trade unions affiliated to the three apex federations in the oil PSU sector were on protest against BPCL privatisation across India.

Over 2,000 employees gathered at BPCL's Mumbai refinery to protest against the government's privatisation plan

Even though Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL) has escaped the onslaught of privatisation, the employees took out a procession in the Assam district nevertheless to show solidarity with BPCL employees. In Mangalore, too, employees blocked the gates of refiner MRPL to register opposition against the government's privatisation drive. "Today it is BPCL, tomorrow it could be us," said Sudhendu KV, employee union president at MRPL. "We want the government to revoke its decision. No public sector company should be privatised."

Impact on operations

Even though the BPCL management has claimed that the protest did not have any impact on the operations, employee unions have said that the day-to-day functioning at the state-run refiner was impacted. Kishore Nair, General Secretary of Bharat Petroleum Technical and Non-technical Employees Association, said that LPG filling was on hold in Mumbai and retired employees were called in by the management as contingency workforce to keep the refinery running.

In Kerala, on the other hand, the impact was the most widespread as one unit at Kochi refinery, the Delayed Coker unit, was shut down. The turnout in Kerala's Kochi was the largest as 10,000 people took to streets to hold a procession and formed a human chain outside Kochi refinery. Aji MG, General Secretary of the Kochi refinery's workers' association, said, "Over 10,000 people took part in the protests here. Only essential category employees attended duty with the permission of the trade unions. At least 350 diesel tankers and 215 petrol tankers move everyday. That was fully on hold. Also, 300 LPG cylinder lorries move everyday. But that too was on hold for today."

The backdrop

The nation-wide protest took place a week after the government formally announced its plan to sell its 53.29 percent stake in BPCL. The government is looking to raise Rs 1.05 lakh crores from disinvestment by the end of this financial year and it is expecting to raise a sizeable chunk of the overall target from BPCL sale. The financial bids for the privatisation of BPCL opened on November 27. The probable contenders in the race include Reliance Industries, and global players like Saudi Aramco, Total, Exxon Mobil, among others.

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