Report by Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) correspondent
The central government is now planning to sell one more public sector steel plant after selling the Neelanchal Ispat plant in Odisha to the Tata group. The National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) has been building Nagarnar Steel Plant of the capacity of 3 million metric tons per year (MTPA) at an estimated cost of Rs 23,140 crore. The plant is located in the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh. The government announced its decision to privatise the plant even while it was still under construction. The Cabinet had in November 2016 itself gave its approval to NMDC to sell 51% equity in the Nagarnar steel plant to a private company based on NITI Aayog recommendations.
As the plant is expected to start production in the next few months, the process of privatisation is being expedited now.
The privatisation of Nagarnar steel plant has led to strong protests by workers and people who gave up their land for the plant. “We were promised that the steel plant would bring in jobs for the local population and that hospitals and schools would be constructed. However, nothing of that sort has happened till now. And now, this government wants to hand the plant over to a private company. We will not let it happen,” said a protester.
Around 1200 families in the region gave up their land during the land acquisition drives first in 2001 and then in 2010. Even after 20 years many of them have not been given jobs, as promised by the NMDC. Once the plant is privatised, there is a fear that jobs of local land providers will be in danger.
“We gave up our land, trusting that the government company would place the interests of the citizens over profit. That is not the case with a private company,” said a local currently employed at Nagarnar Steel Plant. “It is about the future generations as well. We are opposing the privatisation to ensure that their livelihoods are protected.”
The land for the plant, spread over 1900 acres, was acquired under the erstwhile 1894 land acquisition legislation on the ground that it was required for a “public purpose”, a term defined in Section 3(f)(iv) of that Act as “the provision of land for a corporation owned or controlled by the State”. This means, the land so acquired cannot be transferred to a private company. If the plant is privatised, the land should revert to the State.
When land was originally acquired for the steel plant, there was widespread opposition from the local tribal families. Land was forcibly taken from them by saying that it was required for a public sector company.
An iron ore mine of the capacity of 7 MTPA in Bailadala range in Dantewada district of Chattisgarh has been developed at an estimated investment of Rs 1900 crores for meeting the raw material requirement of the plant. After meeting the requirement of 5 MTPA of iron ore for the steel plant, the remaining quantity will be sold to steel plants located inside Chhattisgarh. A joint venture (JV) Company between NMDC and Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation (CMDC), a state government PSU was formed for the development of the mine. Around 650 hectares of land, also in the tribal area, has been acquired for the mine.
In addition to the mining area, 95 hectares of forest land has been used for development of infrastructure such as the downhill conveyor, screening plant, loading plant and approach road etc.
As the land on which the plant and mines are located is in a ‘scheduled area’, many experts have raised doubt whether it is possible to privatise the lease held by a public sector company in a ‘scheduled area’. Scheduled Areas are areas in the country with a preponderance of tribal population.
The opposition of workers and local people forced the Government of Chhattisgarh to make a request to the Central Government to reconsider the decision of the privatisation of Nagarnar Steel Plant. The state assembly also has passed a unanimous resolution to the effect that the state is willing to buy the Nagarnar integrated steel plant of the NMDC in the tribal Bastar region in the event that the central government goes ahead with its disinvestment.
The proposed privatisation of Nagarnar plant is yet another example where the state has first done the job of acquiring tribal and forest land by making false promises to the people, used public money to build the plant and develop mines and now when the plant is ready to start production, steel monopolies want it to be handed over to them for private profit.
The opposition of workers and people to the privatisation of Nagarnar Steel Plant is just and deserves support of all workers.