New Delhi: The nationwide strike of officers from public sector oil firms has disrupted production and refining services in the hydrocarbon sector as well as the functioning of some power and fertilizer companies, according to government officials.
The government up the ante, arresting two union officials under the Essential Services Maintenance Act while government-owned oil companies suspended 17 employees.
The strike was undertaken under the aegis of the Oil Sector Officers’ Association.
Long wait: Motorists queue up for petrol after tanker drivers joined the strike in Hyderabad on Tuesday. Mahesh Kumar A. /AP
Petroleum ministry officials and executives of public sector oil companies were to meet the association members late on Wednesday for negotiations.
“While common people have not suffered, the industry has suffered,” R.S. Pandey, petroleum and natural gas secretary, said. “Indian Oil Corp. (IOC) has lost 30% production. There is a one-month stock available for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), petrol and diesel, and these can be sourced from private companies. The aviation turbine fuel services were fully available.”
Of the suspended employees, 11 are from Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC), and three each are from IOC and Gas Authority of India Ltd, said a senior petroleum and natural gas ministry official, who didn’t want to be named.
“We are trying to resolve the issue by asking the union to call off the strike,” petroleum minister Murli Deora said.
ONGC and IOC were among the worst affected.
Oil production from ONGC fields fell to 270,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the usual 350,000bpd. Gas production at ONGC fields fell to 17 million cubic metres per day (mcmd) from 50mcmd, Pandey said. IOC lost production at four of its seven refineries, oil ministry officials said.
Power generation companies such as NTPC Ltd were also hit as supply to their gas-based projects were affected.
NTPC’s seven power plants fuelled by gas or liquid fuel were already operating at lower capacity because of fuel unavailability.
“There are problems and we are trying to source liquefied natural gas to tide over the crisis,” said R.S. Sharma, chairman and managing director, NTPC, India’s largest power generation utility.
“So far, 17 gas-based urea plants have been shut down and three more can be closed any time soon, both in the private and public sectors. Fertilizer output has been hit hard, as 20 out of 28 units are run on gas,” Fertilizer Association of India director-general Satish Chander said.
Opposition parties questioned the government’s actions. “There is an anomaly that the government has failed to address... Why is that all of a sudden there is a growing discontent among the PSUs (public sector undertakings),” asked Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
“There was no strike at HPCL... BPCL managed a little over a half of its production... Even the courts have termed the strike as illegal... the oil PSU management has accepted that there were some slips in their estimates,” petroleum and natural gas secretary Pandey said.
Bloomberg, however, reported that BPCL may shut both its plants. “We have had very few people reporting to work and that may cause problems in running the units,” M.M. Somaya, the refiner’s Mumbai-based spokesman, said.
“So we need to decide if we should rest the units keeping in mind the safety of these units.”
Bloomberg and PTI contributed to this story.