Hundreds of employees of the Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML Limited) held a two-day protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on 9th and 10th August 2017 against the central government’s decision to privatise the Defence Public Sector Undertaking.
The Dharna was organised by the BEML Employees’ Association and Officers Guild which represents around 9000 of the company’s workforce.
The government took the decision to sell 26% of the shares of BEML to a strategic buyer, and to transfer management control to the strategic buyer, in a Cabinet Committee meeting in October 2016.
The assets of BEML, a Mini-Ratna company which manufactures defence, mining and railway equipment, are estimated to be worth well above Rs. 50,000 crore.
The company has been a profit-making enterprise from its inception, with profits in the last ten years alone amounting to Rs. 1141.36 crore. BEML has been making profits even though its products are not entitled for purchase preference by other government companies, and without it receiving budgetary support from the government.
Successive governments at the centre since the early 1990s have embarked upon the course of privatising one Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) after the other. While the initial justification was based on the claim that PSUs are a drain on the exchequer, soon the focus shifted to privatising profit-making PSUs because the efforts to sell loss-making PSUs were less “successful” than envisaged.
The decision to privatise BEML goes one step further in this road – it is for the first time that a Defence PSU is being put up for sale to the private sector. The decision is feared to be fraught with dangers for national security and self-reliance.
BEML is a pioneer in manufacturing metro and rail coaches, and with its privatisation, the large, emerging market in mass urban transportation sector will become a profit centre of the private players, said a press statement by the protesting employees. “The vested interests of private players in the expanding mining industry is being checked by the presence of BEML. With increasing private participation in defence tenders, BEML has become a thorn in the flesh of the private players. That is why private lobbies are working overnight to change the ownership pattern of BEML, through this move of the Government of India”, said the statement.
BEML employees from Bangalore, Mysore, Palakkad and Kolar Gold Fields participated in the two-day dharna at Jantar Mantar. Many of them told Newsclick that the privatisation of BEML will also entail massive corruption in the lines of several previous privatisation deals where PSUs were undersold by massive amounts.
Several leaders and activists including CITU General Secretary Tapan Sen, Lok Sabha MPs MB Rajesh, PK Sreemathy, Dr. A Sampath, PK Biju (all CPI(M) MPs from Kerala), Joyce George (Independent MP from Idukki, Kerala) and CS Puttaraju (JD(S) MP from Mandya, Karnataka) addressed the dharna in solidarity with the protesting employees. MB Rajesh had raised the issue in the Lok Sabha on 4 August.