Kerala: BEML Workers' Protest Crosses 915 Days, Union Govt Accused of Prolonged Silence
Candlelight protest held by the workers of BEML, Palakkad.
The struggle of the BEML (formerly Bharat Earth Movers Limited) workers in Palakkad against privatisation has completed 915 days.
BEML, a key organisation in the strategic sector, is known for manufacturing army vehicles, metro coaches and mining vehicles for defence and domestic purposes.
The protesting workers have accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Union government of striving to sell off the Rs 56,000 crore worth mini ratna company for a miserly sum of under Rs 2,000 crore.
The trade unions, under the joint action council, have held human chains, candlelight protests and dharnas since January 6, 2021.
'MOVE AGAINST NATIONAL INTEREST'
The BJP-led Union government announced the decision to divest 26% of its equity share capital of 54.03% on January 3, 2021, through a parliamentary information memorandum.
The workers in the four units of the company (Kanjikode (Kerala), Kolar Gold Field (Karnataka), Mysuru (Karnataka) and Bengaluru (Karnataka)) have opposed the move since the announcement.
Around 2,000 workers, including regular and contract employees, work in manufacturing units.
"BEML is crucial for the nation's defence and other key sectors, including the domestic rail transport system and mining industry. Our protest highlights the national interest, but unfortunately, the government has remained mute for the past 36 months," SB Raju, convenor of the joint action council and state committee member of the Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU), told NewsClick.
AK Balan, former minister and central committee member of the CPI(M) leading the signature campaign against the privatisation of BEML.
BEML, founded in 1964, is renowned for manufacturing automatic vehicles for military requirements, missile and rocket launchers, parts for the construction of temporary bridges for military requirements and during natural disasters, and iron and coal mining equipment.
"Another important achievement of BEML is the manufacturing of coaches for metro trains at 50% of the cost India was spending for purchase from foreign sellers. Several Indian and foreign multinationals have been envying the potential of BEML," Raju said.
Besides holding continuous protests against the hasty decision to privatise the profit-making mini ratna organisation, Raju said that the workers had sent 1 lakh signatures against the move to the President, the Supreme Commander of the armed forces.
The future of workers is at stake, with the government planning to review the works of the executives annually.
"The workers have challenged the proposal to issue standing orders to force workers above 50 years to go on retirement with the Central Labour Commissioner," Raju added.
'COMPANIES SHORTLISTED HAVE NO TRACK RECORD IN THE SECTOR'
The credibility and efficiency of BEML have never been questioned, as the organisation has been winning orders from within and outside the country. With several metro rail projects proposed across the country and increasing allocation for the defence and mining industries, the BEML will get more orders.
Raju questioned the very idea behind the privatisation move, given the technical superiority of BEML for the diverse needs of the country.
"People from different cross-sections have extended support to the struggle since they understood the need for such a company. But the Union government, unfortunately, has remained silent," he said.
The CITU has also questioned the credibility and track record of the two companies shortlisted from the 10 bidders for taking over the equity shares of BEML.
"One of the companies is known for dismantling ships and large vehicles, while the other one is only capable of building canals and roads. Is this the qualification required to take over a company like BEML, which has played an exemplary role in nation-building for the past several decades?" Raju said.
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