Centre stalls Vizag Steel Plant privatisation, BRS claims victory

The Centre will not go ahead with the privatisation of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP), Union Minister of State for Steel, Faggan Singh Kulaste, announced on Thursday.

“At this moment, we don’t have any such intention. We will not go ahead with the process,” he told mediapersons on the sidelines of Rozgar Mela in the port city.

The minister said the Centre will strengthen the Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL), the corporate entity of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP). As part of this effort, he will hold discussions with the management, workers’ unions and all the stakeholders.

The announcement came amid strong opposition from the VSP employees and non-BJP parties to the privatisation move, and also the intention of the Telangana government to participate in the bidding process to raise working capital for the steel plant through Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL).

RINL had recently invited Expression of Interest (EoI) to provide working capital and raw materials after it faced severe shortage to keep the plant running.

The minister said they would now focus on strengthening RINL by ensuring supply of raw materials. The process is also on to make sure that the plant functions to its full capacity, he added.

Replying to a query, he said the Centre is also working to resolve the issue of captive mines.

Despite protests by VSP workers and Andhra Pradesh’s ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and other opposition parties barring the BJP, the Centre was moving ahead with the privatisation plan, but the entry of Telangana’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government in the scene recently appeared to have altered the situation.

Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao had sent a team of officials from SCCL to VSP to study the feasibility of participating in the EoI. While opposing the Centre’s plans to privatise the PSU, the BRS government had evinced interest in acquiring VSP. The employees had also welcomed the move, saying that the acquisition of VSP by SCCL will protect their interests.

However, Kulaste termed the move by the Telangana government as a political stunt.

The move had also rattled the YSRCP government and the main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Telangana’s Finance Minister T. Harish Rao had also slammed both the parties for not pressurising the Centre to stop the privatisation of VSP.

Adding another twist, Telangana’s Industry Minister K.T. Rama Rao had alleged that the Centre deliberately pushed VSP into losses to privatise it. He also alleged that the Centre denied captive iron ore mines Bailadila to VSP.

Reacting to the Union minister’s announcement of Thursday, Rama Rao said it was a move to divert attention from Bailadila. He said since he had exposed the Centre over the issue, it stopped the privatisation process to divert public attention. He said if the Centre was sincere, it should have alloted captive mines to VSP and also fulfilled the commitment of setting up a steel plant at Bayyaram in Telangana.

BRS leader in Andhra Pradesh, Ravela Kishore Babu, claimed that the Centre going back on the privatisation of Vizag Steel plant is a victory for BRS.

“When the main political parties in Andhra Pradesh could not fight for the steel plant, BRS under the leadership of KCR started fighting to save the steel plant from being privatised,” he said.

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