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Wednesday, Feb 13, 2002

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Anxious Paradeep staff await verdict

Amit Mitra


DISCONTENTMENT has been partly replaced by suspense among the employees of the Paradeep Phosphate Ltd (PPL) on Tuesday, as they wait with bated breath for news from New Delhi regarding the imminent privatisation of the company.

The Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment (CCD) is slated to meet on Feburary 14 to consider the lone financial bid of Zuari Chemicals and Fertilisers Ltd and OCP of Morocco to buy 74 per cent of the Government holding in the company.

Although PPL employees, who had launched an indefinite strike on Feburary 8 in protest against the "manner in which the Centre is rushing through the PSU's divestment", withdrew the strike late on Sunday night, discontent, laced with anxiety, is still palpable among the employees.

According to reports from Paradeep, PPL employees fear a sell-out in the privatisation process. Even a section of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), a partner in the ruling NDA at the Centre, has been against the privatisation move, with one of the BJD MPs, Mr Pravat Samantaray, even stating that "the Ministry of Disinvestment is trying to sell PPL at only Rs 50 crore, when its existing land alone cost about Rs 3,000 crore".

The PPL employees have questioned the motive behind the move to single out PPL for privatisation, when 11 other fertiliser companies were also running at losses.

PPL employees favour a restructuring of the company as has been proposed by the Disinvestment Committee, for, they believe, the company could still be made a viable unit if a suitable financial restructuring package were to be approved.

Another factor that has raised the hackles of the employees is that the privatisation process has been started before the pending wage revision. They fear that after the takeover by a private party, the wage revision would be given a short-shrift and many of them might lose certain benefits, including those associated with voluntary retirement scheme.

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