New Delhi: The optimism was palpable in the Centre’s scheme of things when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while presenting the Union Budget 2019, raised the government’s disinvestment target for the current financial year from Rs 90,000 crores to Rs 1.05 lakh crores. This stern message, however, has now sparked off a widespread agitation in a number of public sector undertakings (PSUs) across the country against the government’s decision to just pursue disinvestment at such a large scale but also bring down its stake in PSUs to below 51 percent.
Unions warn of a nationwide stir
Trade unions cutting across the political spectrum have warned of a mega nationwide stir against the government’s decision as they have claimed that the Centre is planning to sell off not just sick, loss-making PSUs, but also profitable ones. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) has also asserted that it is against any compromise on the issue of disinvestment. It is also planning to organise a national convention of all PSU workers’ unions on November 15 in the national capital. Saji Narayan, BMS president, said: “We don’t want to protest just for sake of protesting. We want a dialogue with the government which has just got a second term. We want to give it enough time but there will be no compromise on disinvestment.”
Unions warn jobs cuts due to disinvestment could worsen job situation
Employee unions have alleged that the Centre’s dwindling tax receipts have prompted it to go on a disinvestment spree, otherwise why would it put profitable PSUs up for strategic sale. They also warned that the disinvestment programme is coming up at a time when the country’s job scenario is already in a state of mess and jobs cuts due to disinvestment could worsen the situation. Tapan Sen, general secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (Citu), was quoted by India TV as saying, “The government is deliberately doing this. It has pushed these PSUs to financial stress and now making a case for their sell off. This is nothing but a sabotage of national interests.”
Workers at Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW) in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi have given the government an ultimatum of 15 days to rethink privatisation of rail coach factories. “During an election rally here, Modiji had promised not to allow privatisation of railways, now he is doing the opposite. We have suspended our agitation for 15 days. If our concerns are not addressed we will launch a joint agitation,” labour leader at DLW, Vishnu Dev Dubey, said. At the Rail Coach Factory in Punjab’s Kapurthala, workers are threatening to go on strike. Union leader Sarvjit Singh said, “Ours is a profit-making production unit. The Modi government wants to convert all production units into a company and sell them off to private players. We will not allow this to happen.” Similar protests are erupting in Chittaranjan Locomotive works in West Bengal and Salem Steel Plant (a unit of Steel Authority of India) in Tamil Nadu.
Is the government putting profitable PSUs on the block?
Reports have claimed that government think tank Niti Aayog has already drawn up a list of over 40 PSUs for disinvestment. What has irked the trade unions is that the list includes profit-making PSUs as well, like National Thermal Power Corporation, Bharat Earth Movers, Steel Authority of India, Bharat Heavy Electricals, Air India and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam.
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