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By Dipankar Mukherjee

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The BJP-led Government in Centre has unmasked its anti-labour agenda when it decided recently to close down 8 Central Public Sector Undertakings including 6 located in the State of West Bengal. The Government has also decided to close 64 National Coalmines of Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) in the States of West Bengal and Bihar. More than 80,000 workers would lose their jobs in the process. This has been done withour any discussion with the Central Trade Unions in spite of BJP’s claim in its National Agenda that "the Government will ensure to make labour an equal partner in national re-construction". However, such hypocracy has now become part and parcel of the eight month old Government which claims itself as "Swadeshi." While in opposition, BJP had claimed that their liberalisation and Privatisation policy was "hijacked" by Congress. It appears they are now bent on showing their originality by taking such anti-labour steps as a part of the policy dictated by the World Bank and IMF.

This is abundantly clear from the fact that there are viable options to revive these units viz. Mining and Allied Machinery Corporation (MAMC), Bharat Ophthalmic Glass Limited (BOGL), Bharat Process & Mechanical Engineers Limited (BPMEL), Cycle Corporation of India Limited (CCIL), Weighbird India Limited (WIL) and Rehabilitation Industries Corporation (RIC) all in West Bengal and National Bicycle Corporation (NBC) and Tannery & Footwear Corporation (TAFCO) in U.P. as well as 64 mines. The revival cost would be much less than retrenchment benefit euphemestically designated as "Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS)". The proposed VRS Package of Rs. 517 crores for about 11,000 workers of 8 CPSUs is sufficient to revivie these units. The approximate revival costs for the CPSUs located in West Bengal are as follows:

MAMC Rs. 141 crores

BOGL Rs. 20 crores

BPMEL Rs. 15 crore (Self-financed through sale of land)

WIL Rs 3 crore

CCIL Rs 15 crore (A joint venture scheme has been submitted to BIFR)

RIC Can be self-financed through sale of land-assets.

The above revived units, in turn, can save foreign exchange and boost exports. MAMC with its skill and expertise base can cater to the increasing demand of mining machinery and material handling equipments for coal sector, where 64 underground mines are being closed for lack of modernisation and technology upgradation.

BOGL is an import-substitute unit of its kind producing optical glass, flint button and opthalmic blanks, used mainly for periscopic and telescopic items of tanks/submarines and other defence equipments. BPMEL has a foreign technology collaboration for water treatment and effluent treatment plant. WIL has even now some export orders in hand for its products.

Indian Power Plants would need more imported coal if the 64 mines are closed by Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited (CIL). Interestingly, some of the other subsidiaries of CIL are paying Rs. 1200 crore as Tax annually and a part of this instead of being paid as Tax, can be gainfully utilised for modernisation and technological upgradation of some of these mines.

In the Presidential Address to the Parliament on March 25 1998 it was declared that "The Government believes that India can – and shall - be built by Indians. No country that is largely or entirely dependent on resources from abroad can truly prosper." The same Government, within the last 8 months, is importing onions from Iran, fertilizers from Oman, power from Pakistan and with the closure of the aforesaid units, coal and machineries from so many other countries. By throwing more than 80,000 Indian workers out of the jobs this Government has initiated the process of building India by Indians. This is just a beginning because there are 54 Sick Companies in the BIFR on the hit list of the Government for winding up. The profit-making Public Sector Undertakings are being disinvested and privatised which would mean further loss of employment. Protections to the Small Scale Sector is being withdrawn throwing open the area for the multinationals – really a Swadeshi way of building India by Indians.

However, this is not going to be an easy task for the Government of the day as their character has been totally exposed before the working class. There have been spontaneous protests by the workers against the Government’s decision to close the CPSUs and the mines. Gate meetings, protest demonstrations, Padayatras are being held all over in the State of West Bengal. All the Central Trade Unions have in a delegation to the Prime Minister protested strongly against this anti-labour move. National Platform of Mass Organisations comprising 56 organisations have decided to give a befitting reply to the BJP-led Government’s move through an All India strike on December 11, 1998. Working class in the country and the people at large would not allow this country to be sold under the garb of "Swadeshiwalas."

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