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Dec 29, 2002
BALCO, two years down the line

In 2001, BALCO a major government owned aluminium producer in Korba, Chhattisgarh was privatised by the sale of a 51% stake to Sterlite Corp. All hell broke loose at once. Workers squatted on the factory premises and kept managers out. Chief Minister Ajit Jogi refused to recognise the transfer and went to court.The agitation lasted over two months. In that time the over 400 melting pots of BALCO were allowed to cool down and freeze with a wealth of metal. Disinvestment of state behemoths stood at a cross roads. Doomsayers were in fine voice.

What’s going on at BALCO now? It behoved the press that milked the saga then to come up with updates. But it has largely moved on to the next sensation. A rare exception is a detailed report by N N Sachitanand. Writing in the Hindu [Dec 28,02] he tells us of the changes that have come about in the company.

None of the demons the workers were made to fear have shown up. No one has been sacked. But a handsome voluntary retirement scheme [VRS] has seen the work force becoming leaner by 1000. Another 1000 may depart by Dec,03, leaving just over 4000 workers. Despite the reduced man power, ‘overtime’ has been banned. Workers welcome the move because they say it was a scam any way with just a select few benefiting. Wages have gone up an average of 25% and production has gone up too. All that must add to mean that productivity has improved.

Sachitanand says, “Gone is the shoddiness in the offices, the clumps of gossiping and idle workers, the indifferent housekeeping and the general aura of lethargy and despondency.”

Managers are happy too. For one, their annual pay rises will be of the order of 8% as against the earlier 3%. Old days of confrontations on the shop floor are at an end. Sterlite is bringing in new technology. It turns out that for a company touted to be a national treasure, BALCO was scarcely computerised. Today there is an intranet and soon an ERP system will be commissioned.

BALCO, stagnant for years is now set to grow. In the first phase Rs. 260 crores has been committed which will double the capcity from the present 150,000 tones per annum. By 2005 Sterlite plans to pump in another Rs.4,800 crores that would raise production to 830,000 tonnes. So the bottom line is that productivity, profitability and growth are forging ahead with an enthusistic team powering it.

In conclusion, we must note another change: Chief Minister Ajit Jogi now declares that he was never against privatisation. He had been misunderstood by the whole of India.

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