Home/ Politics / Policy/  Coal India workers strike to fight Narendra Modi’s privatization plans

New Delhi/Mumbai: A strike by coal miners in India has shut down some mines and disrupted supply at others as unions vowed the biggest walkout in decades to halt plans by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to privatize the industry.

“The strike is on," said R. Mohan Das, a personnel director at state-run Coal India Ltd, the world’s biggest miner of the fuel. It’s too early to assess supply losses, he said, adding that all workers have walked out at some mines, while others are partially closed.

Unions called a five-day strike starting on Tuesday after rejecting an offer to meet management this morning. Hundreds of union members protested outside Coal India’s Kolkata office denouncing the privatization plans.

“If this strike intensifies there will be a severe coal shortage," said Alex Mathews, head of research at Geojit BNP Paribas Financial Services Ltd. “With many power utilities being hand to mouth as far as coal supplies are concerned, the problem may be severe."

Of the 100 power plants that run on local coal, 42 had supplies for less than seven days as of 1 January, according to the power ministry’s Central Electricity Authority. Twenty of these plants had less than four days of stock.

Modi’s government in October signed an executive order that included a provision to allow the government to end a government monopoly on mining and selling of coal. While analysts consider the move crucial to boosting coal output, unions fear it could lead to job losses.

“The private companies will come and sell coal at depressed prices and Coal India will have no option but to cut jobs to reduce costs and compete with them," said Basant Kumar Rai, vice president at Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, one of the main unions holding the strike.

Largest action

Parts of India already suffer from regular blackouts as Coal India, which accounts for 80% of the nation’s supply, has failed to meet production targets. The outages can last as long as 10 hours a day, especially during summers, when both domestic and industrial demand peaks.

The five-day strike at the nation’s biggest employer after Indian railways will be the largest industrial action since the railways workers’ strike in 1974. That 20-day shutdown crippled supplies of food grains, cement and petroleum. It ended after the then government took on the unions, sending several union leaders to jail.

Use of force on coal miners would lead to “permanent damage to hitherto cordial and harmonious industrial relations, peace and tranquility in the coal mining areas," the Indian Nation Trade Union Congress said in a statement on Monday. Bloomberg

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Updated: 06 Jan 2015, 07:08 PM IST
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