Employees call Central Electronics Limited a ‘national asset’, but the government is selling 100% of its stake in the company.
Sahibabad (Uttar Pradesh): It has been a month since employees of the government-owned Central Electronics Limited (CEL) started an indefinite protest demonstration at their factory gate in Sahibabad, Uttar Pradesh.
Four or five permanent employees can be found sitting on plastic chairs in a red makeshift tent right outside the gate every day during working hours. They wear black armbands to work and take turns to sit outside so that even during the protest, the daily functioning of the company remains unaffected. During the lunch break and while leaving for the day, they gather around the tent to raise slogans against the Narendra Modi government and assert their unity in the struggle against attempts to privatise their company.
What does CEL do?
Set up in 1974, CEL aims to ‘commercially exploit the indigenous technologies developed by India’s National Laboratories and R&D Institutions’ and operates in four verticals – solar energy, railways signalling, defence electronics and integrated security and surveillance. CEL has played an important role in the electrification of remote and hilly areas where private players are reluctant to go, and also produces sophisticated products like the Phase Control Module (PCM) that is used in missile systems and is of strategic importance for India’s security.
The company has a net worth of Rs 50.34 crore as of March 2017, employs over a thousand workers (435 permanent and over 600 contractual) and is under the administrative control of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), Ministry of Science and Technology.
Why are workers protesting?
In 2016, the NITI Aayog listed CEL as one of 74 ‘sick or loss-making’ Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) to be considered for strategic disinvestment or sale. The government then cleared a proposal last year for 100% stake sale through strategic sale with transfer of management control. The employees have been up in arms ever since, saying that CEL has been wrongly clubbed with other loss-making CPSEs. The employees and executives argue that since CEL is a ‘national asset’ and has also turned profitable, the government should retain control.
When repeated appeals to the concerned authorities fell on deaf ears and the deadline for private bids for sale loomed large, workers escalated their movement by starting an indefinite protest demonstration.
Inaccurately tagged ‘loss-making’
According to CEL’s balance sheets from the last five years, the company has been increasingly making profits (almost doubling net profits every year since 2013-14). It made profits of Rs 16.81 crore (after tax) in the last financial year (2016-17) alone. “We have worked hard all these years to develop indigenous technologies, our labour is finally bearing fruit. We have orders worth over Rs 1,000 crore for this year and expect at least double the same next year,” T.K. Thomas, working president of the CEL Employees’ Union (CELEU), tells The Wire.
CEL had been ‘loss-making’ for most of its existence but started turning in profits in the last five years without the help of any immediate revival package from the government. The employees are confident that the trend will only go upwards.