The fight for Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) dates back to the year 1966 when Indira Gandhi decided against having a steel plant in Vizag. An Anglo-American consortium was bent upon having it in Vizag, but the ruling party denied the necessary permissions every time they were approached. This denial was considered as an insult to the Telugu people and eventually led to freedom fighters, T. Amrutha Rao and Tenneti Visawanadham, initiating a statewide agitation (much like the protests against privatisation of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant today). These agitations turned violent and 12 unarmed people were killed in police firing. The agitation was carried out by all ranks of people. Sixty-six MLA’s and seven MP’s resigned, to show their support. Considering everything that was sacrificed, 32 people, 64 villages, and 22,000 acres of land were given up for this cause. It was finally in 1970 that Indira Gandhi gave in and the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant was established.
The Visakhapatnam Steel Plant was commissioned in 1992 with a capacity of 3.0 MTPA of liquid steel. VSP subsequently enhanced its capacity to 6.3 MTPA in 2015, and 7.3 MTPA in December 2017. Today the firm stands tall as the single largest employer, employing over 16,000 permanent employees, and around 15,000 contract workers. This industry also has around 70,000 people indirectly employed.
The Central Government, in September 2011, decided to divest 10 percent of its stake via Initial Public Offering (IPO) but eventually did not materialize. Now the Central Government has once again decided to privatize 100 percent of its holdings. Here is the timeline, and the fall of events since the Central Government’s decision, in early 2021.
- On 27 January 2021, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) gave in principle the approval to privatize Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL)
- On 3 February 2021, the Secretary of Development of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) informed about the decision that was taken by the CCEA in a meeting that was held on 27 January 2021
- On 4 February 2021, the Union Cabinet finalises the privatisation of India’s first shore-based integrated steel plant.
- On 5 February 2021, the plant’s recognised union, named Workers Union, calls out to VSP’s employees, and political parties to assemble at the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) office for a dharana.
- On 6 February 2021, late in the evening, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, writes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to drop plans on the privatisation of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant.
- On 8 February 2021, an all-party meet is held to launch a stir in a phased manner against the Central Government’s decision.
- On 16 February, a delegation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders presents a memorandum urging the concerned authorities to consider not selling the VSP.
- On 20 February 2021, YSRCP leaders launch a 25-km long march called the Visakha Steel Plant Parirakshana Porata Yatra from the Mahatma Gandhi statue near the GVMC office in Visakhapatnam city.
- On 26 February 2021, the Vizag Steel Plant Parirakshana Committee calls for a statewide rasta roko, that begins at 11 AM, and concludes at 1 PM.
- On 8 March 2021, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, says in a written reply to Lok Sabha “While deciding the terms and conditions of the strategic sale, legitimate concerns of the existing employees, and other stakeholders, are suitably addressed through appropriate provisions made in the Share Purchase Agreement (SPA)”.
- On 9 March 2021, in light of the statement issued by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, writes a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking an appointment with him.
- On 14 March 2021, to join the agitation, and to take the cause across Andhra Pradesh, Gaddam Ramu, a YouTuber from Vijayawada, starts cycling for the said cause from Hindupur, a city located in the Anantapur District.
- On 26 March 2021, while the whole nation observes a Bharat Bandh, primarily protesting against the farm laws, local agitations against the privatisation of the VSP take the limelight.
- On 30 March 2021, Former Joint Director of CBI, and retired IPS Officer, VV Lakshmi Narayana, files a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), referring to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) decision, in Andhra Pradesh High Court at Amaravati.
- On 2 April 2021, CMD, RINL, PK Nath, announces that RINL-VSP registered a strong performance by recording a sales turnover of around Rs 18,000 crores during the 2020-21 financial year. This is the second-highest since inception.
- On 10 April 2021, the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) council unanimously passes a resolution against the privatisation of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant.
- On 15 April 2021, the Andhra Pradesh High Court issues notices to the Central Government over the petition filed against the privatisation of VSP.
- On 20 May 2021, the Andhra Pradesh State Government, led by the State Minister of Industries, Mekapati Gautam Reddy, passes a resolution unanimously to oppose the privatisation of VSP.
- On 7 July 2021, the Central Government invites tenders from merchant bankers and legal advisors to execute strategic privatisation of the VSP, setting the last date for bids as 28 July 2021.
- On 11 July 2021, to mark 150 days of protests against the Central Government’s decision, a bike rally is organised from Kurmannapalem Junction to Gandhi Statue, near the GVMC building.
- On 12 July 2021, another Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is filed against the privatisation of VSP.
- On 14 July 2021, Member of Parliament and YSRCP National General Secretary, V Vijayasai Reddy, calls for his party to raise the VSP privatisation issue during the monsoon session of the Parliament. Apart from standing up against the decision, the YSRCP party also stages protests at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.
- On 20 July 2021, the Central Government re-enforces the decision of privatising the VSP in reply to a question raised by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament (MP), Kanakamedala Ravindra Kumar.
As of today, the protests are only intensifying, with every passing day. There has been no resolution to this dispute and the fate of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant continues to hang in the balance.