Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani on Thursday said that “several elements, including mafias, were eyeing Pakistan Steel Mills’ land” and accused the federal government of wanting to “hand over [the property] to one of their ATMs”.

The minister, in a press conference, said that the reason behind shuttering down Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) was not fiscal loss, but the value of the land it was built on, adding that “some people wanted to usurp it”.

“An incapable, selected cabinet cannot make decisions regarding steel mills and its employees,” he declared and added that the Sindh government will stand by the PSM employees who were recently axed. Last week, the federal government had fired 4,544 employees after a decision earlier this year to let go all employees of the company.

The move was condemned by PPP Chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who termed the Centre’s move “heartless” and vowed that his party would “return each and everyone back to work”.

In response to Bilawal’s tweet, Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar said that he wanted to “remind everyone that it was during the PPP [government’s] tenure that the PSM went from a profit-making entity with billions in [its] bank account to a heavy loss-making and bankrupt entity”.

In his talk today, Ghani said the land on which PSM was built belonged to the Sindh government, which can retrieve it any time it wanted to.

The provincial minister critcised the incumbent federal government, saying that over the past two years, the Centre had done nothing to revive the steel mills and had now resorted to firing people.

The PTI government’s arguments regarding PSM being in loss were all “drama”, Ghani said, adding that the PPP government can “run the steel mills and make it profitable as well”.

He rubbished claims by government ministers that the PSM went into loss when the PPP came to power. Ghani said at the time, the world was facing an economic recession which had affected the steel sector as well.

When PML-N came to power, he said, the economic situation had improved and PSM was at breakeven.

“However, it came to a halt when its gas supply was discontinued leading to a loss,” Ghani insisted. PSM’s gas supply was discontinued in 2015, when the PML-N was in power.

In his press talk today, Ghani vowed to stand by the PSM employees, who he said had the right to protest. The provincial minister recalled that Planning Minister Asad Umar had once said that if PSM employees were wronged, he would stand by them instead of the government.

Ghani also called upon MQM ministers to “speak up in cabinet and resign if their voice is not heard”.

SHARE