Guwahati: People in Assam heaved a sigh of relief after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday said the Numaligarh Refinery (NRL) will not be disinvested even as the Centre approved the strategic disinvestment of five Public Sector Units (PSUs), including Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL).
BPCL owns 61.65% share in NRL. Of the remaining 38.35% share, the state government holds 12.35% while Oil India Limited (OIL) has a 26% stake.
The Numaligarh Refinery Employees’ Union (NREU), which has been protesting against the possibility of its privatisation, welcomed the decision.
“We welcome the decision taken by the government, which is not just beneficial for Assam but the entire Northeast. We thank the people of Assam and all stakeholders for supporting the agitation led by NREU,” said NREU Secretary Binod Gogoi. “We also wish for early completion of the expansion work in the refinery.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had recently written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to “maintain the PSU status of NRL even if BPCL is privatised and disinvested”.
Sonowal had also highlighted how Modi had laid the foundation stone for the expansion of the refinery in order to enhance its capacity from the existing 3 Million Metric Ton Per Annum (MMTPA) to 9 MMTPA at a project cost exceeding Rs 22,000 crore. Sonowal described it as the highest investment in the Northeast so far.
The NRL, a subsidiary of BPCL, was set up as per the Assam Accord of 1985 — an outcome of the six-year-long Assam Agitation. Situated in Golaghat district, the refinery was dedicated to the nation by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on July 9, 1999.
According to a memorandum submitted to the state government last month by the NREU, NRL has paid more than Rs 30,000 crore to the national and state exchequers since it started operating commercially in October 2000.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), one of the signatories to the Assam Accord, appealed to the Centre against the privatisation of state assets in the future.
“The Numaligarh Refinery was established as part of the Assam Accord. We want to request the Centre not to privatise state assets in the future,” said Angshuman Bora, president of the AASU’s Golaghat unit.
“People in Assam would have never accepted the privatisation of NRL. It is associated with the emotions of the people,” said Bora. “The government should rather find ways to revive the dying industries of Assam and generate employment for Assamese youth.”
Congress parliamentarians Gaurav Gogoi, Ripun Bora, Pradyut Bordoloi and Abdul Khaleque on Tuesday had staged a ‘dharna’ outside Parliament. The placards they carried read: “Numaligarh Refinery – Heartbeat of Assam” and “Save Assam, Save India”.
“We had opposed it and, at any cost, it should not be privatised. In fact, no PSU should go to private companies in the future,” said Congress MP Abdul Khaleque.
The mini-ratna PSU has a net worth of Rs 5,500 crore and employs about 10,000 personnel directly or indirectly.