Good evening, dear leaders and friends. Instead of wishing you a happy new year, I would like to remind you that if we stay united, if we fight united, we can make the coming year a good one. I am Praveen Kumar, General Secretary of Cochin Refineries Employees Association, one of the major unions functioning in BPCL Cochin refinery, Kerala. As you know, BPCL Cochin refinery is the largest refinery in public sector in India. It is a part of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, a maharatna company with 52.98% of shareholding by government of India. It is the second largest petroleum company in the public sector. Like other public sector companies, it is also kept for sale. In November 2019, cabinet committee approved the decision to sell the shares of BPCL to private players.
Before going to agitation activities, before explaining that, let me make you more familiar about our organisation. Everybody of you may be aware that you are fuelling from our petrol outlets, petrol pumps, but you may not be much aware of assets associated with Bharat Petroleum. Bharat Petroleum Corporation has three refineries. Earlier, three refineries were there: Cochin refinery, Mumbai refinery and Numaligarh refinery in Assam. After declaring this privatisation, the government has detached the Numaligarh refinery from BPCL. It is still in public sector with a consortium of Oil India Limited, Engineers India Limited and the Assam government. Earlier, some privileges were there for Assam government, Assam people. By honouring that, the government says that they have detached it from privatisation. At that time, BORL Bina refinery was there, Bharat Oman Refineries Limited, in Madhya Pradesh. It was actually a joint venture. Now, all shares of Oman also are purchased by BPCL, and now it became a subsidiary of BPCL. In addition to this, it has a large marketing network, more than 15,000 outlets all over India. That is, 25% of the market is associated with BPCL, fuel outlets, including LPG, 25% is with Bharat Petroleum. It is the second largest petroleum public sector company. It has a total refining capacity of 36.3 million metric tonnes per annum. So, the total assets, including the pipelines, aviation fuel-filling stations, LPG-filling stations, and it has lot of joint venture companies in and outside India. So, including all this, its asset value is calculated to be more than 10 lakh crores of rupees.
Bharat Petroleum was earlier a private sector company. In 1976, it was nationalised by Shrimati Indira Gandhi. The intention was that strategic sectors like petroleum refining and distribution—these are all strategic sectors that should be under the control of government of India. With that intention, Shrimati Gandhi nationalised this company. From that time its capacity was only 2.5 million metric tonnes per annum. From that capacity to this 36.3 million metric tonne capacity, in that journey, never ever this company went into loss. In public sector, every time it increased its profit and still remained a profit-making company. Their last year’s profit is around Rs. 19,045 crores. So, it’s a huge profit-making company, and there is no justification in selling this company to any private player.
The present government wants to disinvest or sell all public sector companies, so it’s a part of their policy. We don’t think that it is due to any financial crisis or to make money for any welfare activities that the government is selling this public sector company. It is their policy. Why we are saying this is that earlier also, there was an attempt to privatise BPCL in 2003. At that time, AB Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, and they tried to privatise BPCL. At that time, somebody approached the Supreme Court. There were a lot of agitation activities of workers. In addition to that, somebody approached the High Court, Supreme Court and got a favourable order. The Burmah Shell Acquisition Act (1976) was the key factor for the nationalisation of Bharat Petroleum. Based on that, the government of India cannot privatise BPCL without getting approval from both the houses of parliament. Taking that loophole in the Acquisition Act, Supreme Court did not allow the privatisation of Bharat Petroleum. At that time, the government had no clear majority in the Rajya Sabha, that’s why they dropped it there. But, later in 2016, they repealed the Acquisition Act. The path is clear before the government for privatising BPCL. From the day the government declared the disinvestment decision of BPCL, the workers of BPCL are in continuous struggle, continuous agitation, against this decision. But, we had around 135 days continuous satyagraha/dharna in front of Cochin refinery, and we were able to participate national leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury, and so many national- and state-level leaders participated in the struggle. Due to the COVID impact, the continuous dharna was forced to stop at some point in March end in 2020. But we continued our struggle in a silent mode, like hunger strike and inside agitations.
We analysed our previous struggles, and we realised that the workers or labourers suggested that agitations alone cannot bring the result because it should become a public movement, then only there will be some result. But the government has been deliberately misguiding the people. Especially in petroleum sector, you people know very well that the fuel price is getting increased every day and now it is grown to 110 or 104 in some places. Many of the people think that public sector oil companies are the culprit for this increase in fuel price, and the government is also giving such hints. The then petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan made a statement in newspapers and in media that the privatisation of these oil companies will bring more opportunities for the consumers, that is they will get it for better prices. But everybody should know that the refinery gate price of petrol or diesel is still less than Rs. 40. Because of the excise duties and other duties exercised by central and state governments, you are getting it for Rs. 110 or 105. That is the fact. The main concern before us to take this agitation more to the public, we have to educate them, we have to convince them that the privatisation of BPCL is not a matter specifically to the workers, permanent employees of BPCL, but it is loss to the community, it is a loss to the public.
The main impact of privatisation of BPCL, we listed it out as loss of job opportunities. Even after the declaration of this privatisation decision of BPCL, no recruitment has been done in BPCL. Over the past 2 years, no recruitment has been done. After that, many retirements happened and the company has given VRS to many of the workers, they forced them to take VRS. So, the workforce is coming down and they are going for outsourcing in various areas. The main impact is that job opportunities are coming down. Whenever outsourcing is done, one small example: last month, in Cochin refinery some area was outsourced, and where permanent employees were working, they deputed contract employees. From the information we received from the company, Rs. 40,000 per worker the company is expending, but that worker is getting only Rs. 13,000. In between, the commission is going to the contractor and maybe to many other areas. So, the opportunity to do work with a reasonable salary is diminishing. Then, there are also social and economic impacts, because the recruitment in BPCL being a public sector company, 50% reservation category people are also included in that. Normally, socially and economically backward class who will get opportunity to get a better job will be over by the privatisation of this refinery, of BPCL. Another thing is that in giving outlets, petrol pumps, to people, reservation norms are also followed. Educationally or financially backward class people are also getting opportunities to get such business ventures, and thus, what our leaders envisaged while formulating our reservation system will not be fulfilled by the privatisation of this company.
Earlier, we used to get subsidy for LPG. Our Prime Minister in his speeches has always mentioned Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. For that, Rs. 651 crores have been expended by BPCL in the last year. Only in this last year, we expended Rs. 651 crores for this project. So, a private player will definitely not make such expenditures. The production of more value-added products, products like LPG and bitumen that we use for making rods, which are not economical products. But, because of the social commitment of a public sector company, we are producing that kind of products. If you examine Reliance, Reliance has the largest refinery in India, they are not producing a single tonne of LPG, and bitumen also they are not producing. So, they are converting these products into more value-added products. That kind of business thinking is not there in public sector companies, still we are making reasonable profits, but that opportunity will also be lost.
Other public sector companies like HOC (Hindustan Organic Chemicals), FACT and Cochin port of course, they are surviving with products from BPCL. Any privatisation will change the scenario and their survival will also be at a difficult stage. IOC and HPCL will be the remaining public sector companies in this field. So, if a private player has got the opportunity to utilise the brand value of BPCL, they will definitely halt the market and the survival of IOC and HPCL will also be in trouble. Finally, it will lead to the privatisation of those companies also. In addition to this, the huge profit we are making, a part of that is used for corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds. An average of Rs. 200 crores BPCL is spending every year for its CSR activities. From private companies, we cannot expect this kind of CSR projects. Reliance, Adani and other private companies are making more profits, but we are not seeing any CSR activities from their side. They will do whatever CSR activities for name sake only, they will not do it in a sincere manner.
In connection with this agitation against privatisation, we conducted four national strikes. In all strikes, management is not taking a good approach towards workers. For each day we are striking, they deduct 4 days salary from us. So, around 1-month salary is now with the management because of these agitations. In marketing, they are not doing any recruitment but they pressurize the people to take VRS and threaten them by saying they will give transfer. In many other ways, they have succeeded in taking VRS for a major category of employees from the marketing section. For the workers of BPCL, our long-term wage settlement is pending for the last 4 years. All petroleum companies, public sector companies, have completed their wage agreement revision. But, in BPCL alone, for the worker category alone, this revision has not been completed because the management wants to introduce some clauses that are favourable to the privatisation of BPCL. The workers are not ready to accept it, so we are fighting with the government, fighting with the management without getting our salary. For the last 5 years, wage revision has not been done. The condition they are trying to impose in our wage settlement is that the 10-year settlement, management should get the power to review it every 3 years. That is for the future private corporate management. When they take charge, they have to change all the service conditions of the workers, and they need to eliminate them, or they need to cut down the number of workers.
Another thing is that whatever share purchase agreement the future buyer comes into with the government, that also we have to accept. The workers are not ready to accept these kinds of things for mere salary revision. That’s why, for the first time in the history of the Cochin refinery, LTS is before PGIG court, that is it is before the tribunal, and we are fighting for it and we are patiently waiting for it. In second time after corona, we are revamping our agitation activities, and this time, we are trying to include the mainstream political parties also. We are making committees and organising conventions on various levels, on ward level, panchayat level and district level, to make the public aware of the impacts of privatisation of BPCL and to bring them as part of these agitation activities.
Now, everybody knows that the government is against the labour class. With the new labour codes, they have declared it. All public sector companies are kept for sale, and everywhere some agitation activities are going on. The need of the hour is to synchronise the agitation activities in various sectors and make it a joint movement, then only it will give results, that is our thinking. Kamgar Ekta Committee is doing a good job in this direction, and we hopefully expect that just like what happened in farmers strike, labourers will also succeed to make the government to think in the correct way.
I thank everybody for giving me the opportunity to have a chat with you. Thank you.