The Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) in Andhra Pradesh, along with two other steel plants in the south of India, are now up for sale. The VSP was set up in response to a demand from the Andhra Pradesh government for a fifth steel plant in the public sector. The resistance of the Congress government led by former PM Indira Gandhi gave birth to the ‘Ukku’ agitation in which 32 people lost their lives. The Congress government was finally forced to announce three steel plants in the fourth five-year plan which included VSP. The other two plants were to be set up at Salem and Vijayanagar in Karnataka.
While the Vijayanagar unit has gone into private hands, the Steel Authority of India now wants to give up its share in the Selam steel plant. The VSP too is on the disinvestment list. The VSP had gone into debt during the NDA government led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and it wanted to privatise the plant. This move was strongly resisted and the Centre came to the rescue of the VSP. The plant cleared all debts and went into profits.
During the UPA, the VSP was made to invest and commission the Wheel and Axel Plant in the Rae Bareli Lok Sabha segment in Uttar Pradesh, represented by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The then Railway Minister and current West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, too, wanted the VSP to kickstart another plant in New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal.
As if these woes are not enough, the BJP government at the Centre allowed the privatisation of Gangavaram Port, standing on the land that belongs to the VSP. The port was supposed to function as a captive port for the VSP. The State government allocated an equivalent land to the VSP in lieu of Gangavaram land in a remote forest area which proved to be of no use.
With the expansion plans of the VSP delayed for more than a decade followed by Covid and no captive iron ore and coal blocks, clipping its wings, capping the loan-raising limits have pushed the VSP into debt, according to trade union leaders.