Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Mar 09, 2002
Hindustan Fertilizer Haldia unit staring at liquidation
A view of Hindustan Fertilizer's Haldia unit.
HALDIA, March 8
IT has been lying closed for the past 16 years. But it will not remain closed for much longer because the death sentence on the Haldia unit (employing 1,300-odd people) of Hindustan Fertilizer Corporation is now written on the wall for everyone to see.
"It will be only a few more days before the order for liquidation is issued,'' says one worried employee as he loiters aimlessly inside the 500-acre campus.
In fact, the campus itself, enveloped by an eerie silence, wears an unkempt and haunted look with wild vegetation with the columns and chimneys of the chemical plant covered with creepers.
The fears of the workers of this huge complex, closed since September 1986, may not be entirely unfounded.
On Wednesday, the Group of Ministers was to have met in Delhi and find a way out for the possible revival of the Haldia unit of HFC and two other units located in Durgapur and Barauni.
As of now, there is no indication of what transpired at the meeting. (The Durgapur unit has remained closed since 1997 and the Barauni unit since 2000.)
It is of some interest that the fourth (operating) unit of HFC, located in Namrup (Assam), is to be hived off from HFC and reconstituted into a new company, Brahmaputra Valley Fertiliser Company, to be owned by the Union Government.
More than Rs 1,100 crore of its losses have been wiped off from its books and the Government has sanctioned more than Rs 500 crore for its revival.
Mr Lakshman Seth, the local CPI(M) MP, said: "There is no way the Haldia unit of HFC can be salvaged. I have talked to Mr Dhindsa (Union Agriculture Minister) as well Mr Satyabrata Mukherjee (Minister for Fertilisers and Chemicals), but none of them has been able to give me any assurance about the unit's revival. On the other hand, they have more or less convinced me that its liquidation is the only option left.''
But, being a Marxist MP, would he take this lying down or would he prefer to launch an agitation in support of the demand for reopening the Haldia unit at any cost?
Mr Seth said: "You see, it is not an isolated case. We have to take a total view of other similarly placed PSUs. Besides, no private entrepreneur has shown any interest in acquiring the unit. In any case, we are staging an agitation on March 16.''
Clearly, Mr Seth has a problem on his hands because a section of employees feels that the State Government, instead of exploring all avenues to reopen the factory, is doing just the opposite.
They point out that the trainees' hostel of Haldia HFC has been forcibly occupied by the State Government and handed over to the Haldia Institute of Technology, a private engineering college promoted by, among others, local party men.
This apart, a move is also afoot also to turn the huge guest house into the nautical engineering faculty of the same institute. There is yet another move by the State Government to acquire 32 acres of HFC land at Basudevpur near Haldia. The Marxists, however, say that all these steps are aimed at augmenting the unit's earnings.
The local HFC management also makes it clear that there is no way the plant can be revived because the technology is old and is totally out of sync with modern-day requirements.
When the plant came to be built, during the heydays of the controlled economy, equipment and technology came from as many as 20 countries, mostly East European.
One consequence of this is that any entrepreneur who takes over the unit will have to demolish the existing structure and build the plant anew.
Not surprisingly, there has been no serious inquiry from any entrepreneur for the purpose of acquiring the plant. This is presumably because the cost of demolishing the existing structure promises to prohibitively high, not to mention the fact that no investor would want to carry a baggage of 1,300 workers.
The local management has just received a communication from the head office on a revised voluntary retirement scheme/voluntary separation scheme.
The scheme is said to be much better than the one floated a few years ago. But then the local management is not sure about the response.
More important is the fact that, in case there is a favourable response, the head office may find it a problem to cough up the required funds.
"We have very little to do in this regard; we will only forward the cases to the head office for necessary action,'' observes Mr D.K. Gupta, General Manager of the plant.
The Haldia unit management has reason to feel insecure over the VRS payment. For the past couple of months, release of fund by the Centre for payment of salaries and wages has been irregular.
The Haldia unit of HFC earns more than Rs 1.5 crore a month by letting out its utilities.
Thus, Hindustan Lever Ltd, which has a fertiliser factory next door, uses HFC's ammonia storage facility, dock-based silos, and port facilities.
The adjacent Indian Oil Corporation buys water from HFC. From time to time, the rail yards, wagons and locos and even the silos within the premises have been made available to others for use.
"We send our earnings to the head office, which reimburses all our costs,'' said Mr Gupta, pointing out that last year, the income-expenditure gap had amounted to Rs 6 crore, which the head office covered.
The unions are not convinced that the Haldia unit of HFC is a fit case for liquidation.
There has never been any serious attempt to run the plant, they say.
The general perception that the plant has never produced anything is just not true, they claim.
Between 1982 and 1985, the plant did produce - though intermittently - 25,000 tonnes of urea, 17,000 tonnes of NPK and 10,000 tonnes of methanol.
The unions say that various experts, including Uhde of Germany and Toyo Engineering of Japan, which studied the plant from time to time, have held that the plant could be made operational provided some investments were made.
But nothing has been done in this regard, it is alleged.
In fact, all the six unions of HFC have appealed to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) as well as the Appellate Authority for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (AAIFR), praying for suitable measures to reopen the closed factories.
However, the appeals have gone unheeded on the ground that the unions have not been able to offer any concrete revival schemes in support of their demand.
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