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Sick HEC put back on road to sale

Ranchi, May 16: The Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) has ordered the sale of Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC).

BIFR has directed the Industrial Development Bank of India to put up a “sale notice” for the sick corporation. Copies of the order have been sent to HEC by the Union heavy industries ministry.

Late last year, BIFR had threatened to order the “closure” of HEC unless the Centre and the Jharkhand government came out with concrete revival plans. The Centre subsequently set up a two-member committee to interact with Jharkhand.

The BIFR bombshell comes less than two weeks after Union heavy industries minister Balasaheb Vikhe Patil ruled out threat of either divestment or closure of HEC during his Ranchi visit.

On May 4, the minister had declared that he had directed HEC to prepare a fresh revival plan for consideration by the Centre and to spruce up its marketing to get back on rails.

The Centre did not intend to close down any PSU, Patil said after touring all HEC plants. Though the minister did not meet Arjun Munda because of shortage of time, he had requested the chief minister to extend all possible help to the corporation.

HEC officers’ association president .P. Singh, who is in Delhi as part of an all-India PSU officers’ association to oppose the move to divest Mecon and CMPDI, said the BIFR order was being kept under wraps though copies of the “letter” had been distributed to all concerned.

In addition to the sale notice, BIFR has ordered IDBI to effect an immediate change in the HEC management.

“In the early nineties, a similar ‘sale’ notice was published in several national dailies but it failed to attract any buyers,” Singh said. Soon after the notice was published, the HEC officers’ association had moved the then Ranchi bench of Patna High Court against the sale order. The high court had stayed the sale.

Coming out strongly against the second attempt to sell the corporation, Singh called upon all HEC trade unions to fight the move unitedly. He warned that unless the “sale” proposal was withdrawn immediately, he would take recourse to the law.

Over the past year, HEC has been desperately trying to stay afloat. Early last year, a Union secretarial committee, in a 3-2 split vote, had ruled that only a divestment could save the over 42-year-old giant corporation. The committee included secretaries from the ministries of finance, labour, disinvestment and heavy industries and the Planning Commission. The finance member had rejected suggestions of any monetary aid to HEC.

Later, the defence ministry suggested that the corporation be split up and offered to take over all HEC shops associated with defence production. The corporation contributes heavily to the defence sector, producing launch pads for the space programme, core barrels and spares.

But the defence ministry wanted a free hand to choose the employees to be engaged in defence production. The ministry made it clear it was not interested in either a complete takeover of HEC or in absorbing all employees skilled in defence production.

The proposal met with stiff resistance from HEC workers, who said they were ready for a complete merger with defence but would oppose any move to break up the corporation into small units. Following the “resistance”, the defence ministry had backed out of the proposal.

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