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Visakhapatnam: But for the supreme sacrifice of 32 bravados, Visakhapatnam city would not have become the ‘Steel City’ or ‘Ukku Nagagaram’ in the local parlance with the India’s first shore-based steel plant in its lap. The city with 17.28 lakh population silently remembers its evolution as a steel city with Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) as its jewel and mourns the death of tyagis.

The plant has dotted the city’s picturesque landscape providing employment to thousands of people after a prolonged and spirited people’s movement. Of course, the rise of steel plant is marked by so many twists and trials and tribulations.

The demand for steel plant began in early 60s and took a violent turn in 1966. It was in 1965, an Anglo-American consortium announced that Visakhapatnam was a suitable place for establishing the steel plant. But the then prime minister Indira Gandhi rejected the proposals on September 27, 1966.

Her decision deeply hurt the self-pride of all Telugu-speaking people and students who came out in large numbers to take part in a massive agitation allover Andhra Pradesh. T Amrutha Rao spearheaded the movement with his indefinite hunger strike while freedom fighter Tenneti Viswanadham provided the agitation the much-needed able leadership.

But it took a violent turn on November 1, 1966 when police opened fire and killed nine persons, including a nine-year-old boy. G Krishna Murthy, Tirupatayya, Kolisetti Balakrishna, G Sambasiva Rao, M Punnayya, Sheik Ahemd, K Yesu and nine year old K Babu Rao are still remembered by the people. 

A group of 3,000 people were going in a peaceful rally and the armed police personnel tried to quell the crowd. When they refused to give in, the police opened fire killing nine persons, including a boy.

The crowd went berserk and looted an arms and ammunition shop near AVN College and took away 200 arms. Later they returned the arms to the authorities to demonstrate their will to lead a non-violent movement.

“People wanted to retaliate since they were fired upon unprovoked. It was definitely a peaceful movement,’’ said a relative of a martyr. The state government brought in Navy and Armed forces to suppress the agitation. Firing continued all over the state and on November 3 the agitation was called off after Indira Gandhi gave an assurance to establish the plant in Visakhapatnam only. 

But she changed her mind the very next day which helped revive the agitation in a full swing.In all, 32 persons lost their lives in a spree of violent incidents that took place one after the other.“It is not someone’s charity but the achievement of Andhra people as a whole. 

It is people’s militant struggles and sacrifices that made the dream a reality. We will show the same spirit in protecting the plant from losses and from privatisation,’’ averred CITU leader Ayodhya Ram. His statement aptly reflects the downturn of the city’s fame due to the plant has been running into losses and the government’s disinvestment plans.

Meanwhile, the city is preparing for a commemoration meeting on the Steel Plant premises on Tuesday to pay tributes to the people who gave away their lives for a noble cause.

The agitation led  Indira Gandhi on April 17, 1970 to announce government's decision in Parliament to establish a steel plant. .On 20 January 1971, Gandhi laid the foundation stone. A contract was signed with the USSR for the preparation of working drawings of coke ovens, blast furnace and sinter plant. The blast furnace foundation was laid, with first mass concreting, in January 1982. The construction of the local township was also started at the same time.

Kurupam Zamindars donated 6,000 acres of land for Vizag Steel Plant in 1970. A new company Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited was formed on February 18, 1982. Visakhapatnam Steel Plant was separated from SAIL and RINL was made the corporate entity of the plant in April 1982.