New Delhi: Opposing the Centre’s move to open the coal sector to private players, Coal India unions on Thursday began their three-day strike, impacting both production and supplies, even as the government urged the employees to resume work.
Five trade unions, including RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), working in Coal India Ltd (CIL) are protesting against a range of issues, including proposed hiving off of CIL arm CMPDIL and the decision to start commercial coal mining.
The unions went ahead with their strike call after their virtual meeting on Wednesday with Union Coal Minister did not yield any result.
Unions said that on the first day of the strike, the production of coal has come to a standstill with loss of about 2 million tonnes (MT) of output.
“The despatch of coal is also adversely affected and the figure of participants in a strike is above 95 per cent,” S.Q. Zama, the secretary-general of Indian National Mineworkers’ Federation, affiliated to INTUC, said.
Coal minister Pralhad Joshi urged the employees of Coal India to end the ongoing strike and resume work.
“It is estimated that States will lose more than Rs 319 crores as part of revenues from @CoalIndiaHq. A loss of this magnitude is a national loss and I urge employees of Coal PSUs to end the ongoing strike and resume back their work,” Joshi tweeted.
CIL chairman Pramod Agrawal on Thursday evening appealed to the workmen to resume their duties in the interest of the PSU, a Coal India official said, adding that the attendance of workers of CIL was around 20 per cent on the first day of the strike.
Zama said the strike will continue on Friday and Saturday also, and thereafter the five central trade unions will decide on further intensifying the agitation if the decision of commercial mining was not withdrawn.
He, however, added that no untoward incident has been reported from any of the mining companies or working fields except some incidence in few mines under Eastern Coalfields Ltd.
The central trade unions operating in Coal India are HMS, BMS, AITUC, INTUC and CITU.
A union led by BMS said that the first day of the three-day strike was 100 per cent successful as there was no production and dispatch.
On Wednesday, talks between Coal India trade unions and the government over the issue of commercial coal mining failed.
Nathulal Pandey, president of HMS-affiliated Hind Khadan Mazdoor Federation, said the strike was started by the workers on the first shift, which begins at 6 am.
He claimed that in the Jhanjra area (West Bengal) of Eastern Coalfields, five leaders of the unions, three from HMS, one each from AITUC and CITU were arrested but were released after few hours.
Workers employed in the BCCL, a Coal India arm, have not gone to work and as a result, emergency services such as hospitals in the mines have been paralysed, he said.
A notice issued by the public relations department of the BCCL said there was no impact of the strike in the first shift as all miners marked their attendance and resumed work as scheduled.
For the protection of miners, the colliery management has deployed CISF personnel in large numbers and intensified patrolling in the area to foil any attempt of trade union leaders to stop miners from joining duty, sources in the BCCL said.
According to Pandey, it is estimated that the production loss due to the three-day strike would be around 4 MT.
Besides, the general manager of the Sohagpur area (Madhya Pradesh) of SECL, a Coal India arm, has called outsiders to work in the mine which is an “extraordinary situation” and this has never happened to Coal India, Pandey said.
Coal India accounts for over 80% of domestic coal output.
According to Pandey, in Jhanjra area, production and dispatch are totally closed.
He further said that in South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (SECL), Western Coalfields Ltd (WCL), Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL) and Central Coalfields Ltd (CCL), the strike is successful.
A virtual meeting was held between Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi and representatives of trade unions on Wednesday.
“During the meeting, the minister informed the unions that commercial mining is a policy decision of the central government. The minister said that this is the only way to increase the production of coal. The representatives of trade union reiterated their stand opposing commercial mining,” Pandey said.
In the end, the minister did not accept the demand of unions to withdraw the decision of commercial mining. Therefore, the unions have no other remedy but to go for a three-day strike, he had said.
On Tuesday, Joshi made an appeal to trade unions not to go on strike, saying that there were no plans to either divest the PSU or hive off Coal India arm CMPDIL.
Trade unions have given a call for a nationwide strike against the government’s move to open the coal sector to private players and separate the state-run firm’s exploration, planning and design arm CMPDIL from the company, among other issues.