Dhanbad/Ramgarh (Jharkhand): Away from the notice of middle class India, more than half a million coal workers began their three-day strike from the 6 am shift Thursday. They will stay away from work for three days.
They are opposed to privatization of the coal sector, which the Union government threw open last month with a decision to auction 41 coal blocks, mainly in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra.
Eleventh hour talks were held, by way of a video conference, on Wednesday between coal worker unions and coal minister Pralhad Joshi. Both sides stuck to their position, and the strike went through.
At the end of the first day of the strike, state-run coal companies said there was minimal impact, and the unions said the strike was total and its impact substantial.
Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL) put out a communiqué in the evening stating that all its miners marked their attendance and worked as usual. Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) said mining work outsourced to private contractors was not unaffected.
From regional centres, however, it could be learnt that there was impact. The general manager of CCL's Barka-Sayal command area, Amresh Singh, was quoted by PTI as saying "dispatch of coal has been affected due to the strike, but coal mining via outsourcing private companies remained unaffected".
In Madhya Pradesh, the local arm of Coal India, SECL, hired temp miners, which union leaders said was an "extraordinary situation" that had never happened before.
Union leaders said around 5.3 lakh permanent and contract employees are participating in the strike. The Rashtriya Colliery Mazdoor Sangh’s (RCMS’s) general secretary A K Jha said workers turned up at work as usual at dawn but did not pick up their tools.
"Production has been hampered in all collieries of BCCL and the Eastern Coalfields Limited," he claimed. Other union sources told PTI that work in all the mines of Coal India and Singareni Collieries (part owned by the government of Telangana) has been suspended.
"The strike is total," B K Rai, a union leader affiliated to Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) was quoted as saying.
The All India Coal Workers Federation’s general secretary B B Ramanandan said “all coal mining, dispatch, transport everything are totally stopped in the first shift”.
No violence has been reported from anywhere. Colliery managements have deployed CISF personnel in large numbers. Paramilitary troopers are patrolling to deter any attempt by union leaders to stop miners from joining duty.
About 4 million tonnes of coal output could be lost due to the three-day strike, according to Nathulal Pandey, president of HMS-affiliated Hind Khadan Mazdoor Federation. Coal India, an umbrella entity that holds together all coal fields, produces 1.3 MT of coal every day; so loss due to a three-day strike would be around 4 MT. Coal India accounts for over 80 per cent of India’s coal output.