Shaping Chandrayaan Mission to Selling Tea -- The Fate of HEC Workers

Thousands of workers of Ranchi based Public Sector Undertaking, Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited (HEC) played a vital role in India’s Chandrayaan-3 and Aditya L-1 missions, and are today on the streets, with many forced to sell tea and newspapers for their livelihood.

One may wonder, why the workers of a vital public sector company are forced into such a dire situation. More than 4000 strong work force of HEC have not been paid their salary for more than 18 months now.  The situation is the direct result of the policy of the Modi government that considers these PSUs as a stepping stone for the corporates and private players.

During a protest in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on 21 September, the workers said that it’s a shame that the Modi government, like a capitalist, only sees the profit and not the workers who build them.

Speaking at the protest organised under the banner of under the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) and HEC Bachao Mazdoor Jan Sangharsh Samiti, Comrade Santosh Rai of AICCTU that the crisis in HEC is similar to situation of several PSUs across the country and they are the direct result of government apathy.

“The crisis in PSUs across the country is not by any accident, but a conspiracy and  deliberate design hatched by the Modi-Shah regime. The 2016 Saraswat Committee, set up by the central government had strongly recommended the revival of HEC by carrying out modernisation, but it was just left to die. The government even stopped the SBI from providing HEC with bank guarantees, which forced HEC to raise capital from the open market at examiner price,” he added.

PSU’s like MTNL and BSNL are being pushed into crisis for Reliance Jio and other private players, vaccine manufacturing PSUs, that once formed the cornerstone of India’s immunisation program are left to die for private pharma companies and PSU’s involved in critical infrastructure like ports, airports and Petro-explorations are being handed over to Adani and Ambani – are some of the examples of how government want to handover all the people’s resources to the corporates.

During the recent missions of ISRO, HEC workers had built mobile launching pads, electric overhead travelling cranes to build the rocket assembly, repositionable platforms, cyclone locks and special sliding doors. HEC also supplies equipment to key sectors in India including the steel plants at Bokaro and Vizag, the Navy, the Department of Atomic Energy, and the Railways. It is also pertinent to note that another PSU, Metallurgical and Engineering Consultants (India) Ltd, also known as MECON, which made the design of HEC’s mobile launching pads is facing neglect by the Modi government.

On 14 September 2023, HEC Samyukta Mazdoor Morcha and members of I.N.D.I.A alliance organised a massive protest at the Jharkhand Raj Bhawan to highlight the neglect of HEC and non-payment of salaries to its employees. The demonstration was jointly presided by Bhuvneshwar Kewat of CPIML and Ajay Kumar Singh of CPI. The gathering was addressed by representatives of the I.N.D.I.A alliance including Rajesh Thakur of Congress, Supriyo Bhattacharya of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Mahendra Pathak of CPI, Khilmand Toppo of Trinamool Congress, Anita Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal, Sameer Das of CPI(M), Dr. Avinash of Aam Aadmi Party.

Commenting upon the devastation and privatisation of the country’s assets,  Shubhendu Sen, member of CPIML Central Committee and State General Secretary of AICCTU, condemned the nexus between private corporations and the Modi government. He highlighted how Modi government’s policies were beneficial to private corporates like Adani and Ambani and not the toiling workers of the country. As a result of this nexus, the most important assets of the country such as the Railways, Indian Airlines, the airports and the sea ports are first neglected and then sold off to private players. And given the sustained neglect of HEC, it is feared that it too will be given away into private hands. It was the workers of HEC who work without pay to make the equipment used by ISRO, and not Modi, who should be credited with sending the Chandrayaan to the moon. He said that this wilful decimation and subsequent selling the country’s most valuable assets is not an act of patriotism, rather it was betrayal of all Indians. And, only a united, sustained opposition to Modi and defeating him in 2024 general elections can save the country.

The Fate of HEC Workers