Unions, govt reach agreement amid looming power crisis
A marathon meeting convened by the Centre here was promising an end to the workers’ strike at Coal India late on Wednesday, as union leaders and a government team headed by power and coal minister Piyush Goyal drafted an agreement. Trade union sources present in the meeting told FE that a resolution of the imbroglio seemed likely but, at the time of going to press, they were still non-committal on whether the strike would be called off from Thursday.
The strike call was given by five major trade unions including the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) affiliated to the ruling BJP against disinvestment in CIL and a government plan to “denationalise” coal mining.
The strike severely squeezed the country’s production of the fossil fuel for the second day on Wednesday and appeared to plunge several parts of the country into darkness, as scores of power plants turned precariously fuel-deficient.
The CIL management admitted that the coal production has shrunk to 25% of the pre-strike level — which means a output loss of over of one million tonnes a day.
Industry sources said supply to over 100 power stations have already been hit, with units in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana, which had even earlier been running at sub-optimal levels due to paucity of fuel stocks, among the worst affected.
As many as 20 power plants with a combined capacity of over 23,600 MW and are deemed to be at super-critical juncture, given their current coal stocks could be used up in a maximum of four days, are indeed among the ones facing imminent closure. Fuel stocks with several other plants to are also depleting, fast.
Around 290 out of 438 coal mines of CIL had to be shut because of the strike, agencies reported, showing the gravity of the agitation, arguably the largest industrial action in four decades.
With a meeting convened by the Centre here on Tuesday ending inconclusively, the the strike turned aggressive on Wednesday. “More than 75% of the production has been affected. Most of our mines are badly hit,” a top Coal India official told PTI. The unions said that about five lakh coal workers are on strike.
“Production at various mines has been severely hit and monetary loss due to it could be over Rs 300 crore so far,” a senior official said on Wednesday. CIL, he said, could produce only about 0.2 million tonnes on Wednesday, while it produced 0.22 million tonnes on Tuesday. Production was also hit at mines belonging to Singareni Collieries that produce around 0.1 million tonnes a day.
Uttar Pradesh’s minister of power Yasar Shah said that state could face an electricity crisis if the strike continued but added that arrangements had been made to tackle any eventuality. An executive from the state-run NTPC said that the company will not face any fuel shortage so long as the strike doesn’t go beyond four to five days.
The strike would impact industrial growth across the country, industry chambers said, while asking the agitating trade unions to resolve their grievances in an amicable manner. “The strike would impact industrial growth across India especially in power deficient northern and southern regions, resulting in long unplanned outages,” Assocham secretary general DS Rawat said.
The government aims to raise about Rs 22,500 crore in 2014-15 via the proposed follow-on public offer of CIL, the mainstay of its disinvestment plan for the year, with the targeted proceeds from PSU stake sales estimated at Rs 43,425 crore. Also, the coal ordinance issued recently contained an enabling provision for allowing commercial coal mining by the private sector.
India’s 1.54 lakh MW installed coal-fired power stations need 750 million tonnes of coal to run at optimum capacity and only two-thirds of the required fuel is available to the sector right now, leading to a surge in imports, which are expensive. Given the coal-based power capacity is projected to increase by 40% in another five years, the coal required to run all power plants fired by the solid fuel is estimated at a billion tonnes, up a third from now.
Apart from the BMS, INTUC, CITU, AITUC and HMS are also participating in the strike.