New Delhi: All coal sector trade unions and federations began a three-day country-wide strike from Thursday, hitting production across coal-bearing states, to protest against the government's decision to allow commercial mining of coal, including by foreign entities. Around 5.3 lakh permanent and contractors employees are said to be participating in the strike.
Unions claimed the strike was a ‘resounding’ success in public sector Coal India Ltd (CIL) and its subsidiaries, Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL), Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL), Central Coalfields Ltd (CCL), Western Coalfields Ltd (WCL), South Eastern Coalfields Ltd (SECL), Northern Coalfields Ltd (NCL), Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL),
“In North Eastern Coalfields Ltd (NECL) and CMPDIL and also in Singareni Collieries Company Ltd (SCCL) strike was near total,” said a press release by Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which has supported the strike along with other central trade unions, such as INTUC, AITUC, HMS. Incidentally, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) also joined the strike, pushed by the seething anger among coal workers.
The three-day strike by coal workers is the first big industrial action during the lockdown period against the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government’s move to push through its “wholesale privatisation project of putting the national assets and PSUs on auction in favour of handful of private corporate, both foreign and domestic” said CITU.
The strike began after Wednesday’s talks failed between Coal India trade unions and the government over the issue of commercial coal mining. A virtual meeting was held between Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi and representatives of trade unions.
"During the meeting, the minister informed the unions that commercial mining is a policy decision of 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," a coal union representative said.
Nathulal Pandey, President of HMS-affiliated Hind Khadan Mazdoor Federation, told PTI the strike was started by the workers on the first shift, which begins at 6 a.m. 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 has hospitals in the mines have been paralysed, he added.
According to Pandey, on an average Coal India produces 1.3 million tonne (mt) of coal every day, so it is estimated that the production loss due to the three-days 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.
Meanwhile, a notice issued by the Public Relations Department of the BCCL claimed there was no impact of the strike in the first shift as all miners marked their attendance and resumed work as
The General Manager of CCL's Barka-Sayal and officiating GM of Argada command area, Amresh Singh, however, said "dispatch of coal has been affected due to the strike, but coal mining via outsourcing private companies remained unaffected"
The Rashtriya Colliery Mazdoor Sangh (RCMS) General Secretary, A K Jha, said that the first shift, which began at 6 am, the miners reached the colliery but did not join the work.
"Production has been hampered in all the collieries of the BCCL and the Eastern Coalfields Limited," he claimed.
Rajendra Singh Chandel, the Rashtriya Pragatishil Workers Union (RPWU), affiliated to CITU, which is leading the strike in Ramgarh district, claimed that coal production, dispatch has been affected as the coal workers extended support to the strike.
Trade union leader Hrishikesh Mishra said that coal workers held a demonstration in Giridih near a colliery.
Meanwhile, trade unions on Thursday claimed that mining activities in all the mines of Coal India and Singareni Collieries was suspended.
"The strike is total," BK Rai, public sector in-charge of BMS told PTI.
CITU-backed All India Coal Workers Federation General Secretary B B Ramanandan said all the coal mining, dispatch, transport everything is totally stopped in the first shift that began at 6 am.
Earlier, in a statement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said coal was an essential input for several vital industries like power generation, steel, aluminum, fertilisers and cement. “This move by the central government will result in starving domestic industries of essential inputs as now exports will be unregulated,” it said in a statement
While noting that the 41 coal blocks identified for such privatisation fall in different parts of the country – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand etc – the CPI(M) said most of these blocks were located in forest areas “will uproot the lives of our tribal communities”, while adding that unbridled privatisation accompanied by further deregulation of environmental norms, will “lead to severe environmental degradation.”
Coal India accounts for over 80% of domestic coal output.
CIL’s output has declined by 12.8% to 39.20 mt in June compared with 44.95 mt in June last year, the state-run miner said on Wednesday.
Coal India's offtake also dropped to 41.61 mt in June from 48.98 mt in the corresponding month of the previous fiscal.
The public sector company said it was facing tepid demand from key customers like power producers.
(With inputs from PTI)