THE union cabinet decided to completely privatise the Dredging Corporation of India (DCI) at its meeting on November 2. Subsequently, the government formed an inter-ministerial group on November 22 to speed up the privatisation process. CITU general secretary and Rajya Sabha member Tapan Sen wrote a letter to the prime minister on the same day, opposing the privatisation of the DCI. On December 4, a permanent employee of the corporation, N Venkatesh, committed suicide near Vizianagram in Andhra Pradesh. In his suicide note, Venkatesh expressed fear of losing his job after the privatisation of the DCI. He appealed to the government to stop the privatisation process.
DCI employees have staged several protests in the past month, but the government did not pay any heed to their demands. However, after Venkatesh committed suicide, the Andhra Pradesh government reacted to the development. On December 7, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu met DCI Non-Executive Employees Union (CITU) representatives Ch. Narsingarao and Venkatarao and Officers Association leaders Srikanth and Naik. He declared Rs 5-lakh compensation for the family of Venkatesh. The chief minister also assured the delegation that the state government would take up the issue with the Centre. He said that the central government had not consulted the state government before taking a decision on the privatisation of the corporation. It is clearly reveals the authoritarian attitude of the Narendra Modi government.
The DCI, having its corporate office in Visakhapatnam, was set up in 1976 with an investment of Rs 28 crore. Since inception, it has never incurred losses. It is among the top 10 companies involved in dredging in the world. The company also got work orders from Bangladesh and Bahrain. It has paid taxes and dividends to central and state governments regularly.
Both capital and maintenance dredging services are vital for the development of the marine trade as well as for maintaining the security of the Indian Navy’s operations. Recognising this special characteristic of dredging operations, it has been globally accepted that dredging companies should preferably be in the public sector and they should be subsidised. Some countries that handed over dredging operations to private companies have belatedly realised the folly in doing so, as they are facing cartelised markets. Had the government granted a greater degree of functional autonomy and prevented the fly-by-night private companies from intruding into its market, the DCI would have done far better and safeguarded the public interest to a greater extent. It was against this background that a parliamentary standing committee, in its report in 2011 on the modernisation of major ports, observed: “The committee also notes that huge funds are outstanding due to DCI from various agencies and as a result of which the DCI has not been able to take up development activities. It seems some sort of anarchic decisions are being taken with the vested interests in government to make DCI a sick unit which resulted in taking over of the dredging work by the private companies at exorbitant rates.”
There is strong resistance against the privatisation of the DCI in Andhra Pradesh. In Visakhapatnam, it is the experience of the people that after the privatisation of Hindustan Zinc Limited, the private firm had first reduced manpower drastically and subsequently stopped production. DCI employees fear that after privatization, its headquarters will be shifted from Visakhapatnam. Moreover, an MoU was signed between the Andhra Pradesh government and the DCI for establishment of a dredging institute and repair shop at Antarvedi in East Godavari district with an investment of Rs 800 crore. This project would provide 2,000 jobs. It will not materialise after the privatisation of the DCI.
DCI employees are on a struggle path. They have been on a relay hunger strike near the Visakhapatnam Port Trust main gate since November 30. The DCI Non-Executive Employees Union (CITU) and the Officers Association have issued notice for indefinite strike. On December 6, Jana Sena Party leader and actor Pawan Kalyan visited the venue of the hunger strike. He asked the chief minister to take up the DCI issue with the Centre immediately. YSR Congress Party MP Vijayasai Reddy too visited the striking workers. CPI(M) Andhra Pradesh state secretary P Madhu and CPI state chief Ramakrishna supported the movement. It has been decided to continue the struggle till the decision is withdrawn by the central government.