Company of Coal India’s magnitude bound to have labour issues

Sutirtha Bhattacharya, the newly appointed chairman and managing director of Coal India (CIL), speaks to Sumit Jha…

Sutirtha Bhattacharya, the newly appointed chairman and managing director of Coal India (CIL), speaks to Sumit Jha on his baptism by fire as he deals with the threat of widespread production losses in the face of a strike call by the company’s workers’ unions. Bhattacharya also shares his elaborate plan for infrastructure building at CIL, critical to achieving the production target of 1 billion tonne by 2019. Excerpts:

In your short span at the helm, you have already had to deal with labour trouble at CIL. How well are you equipped to take the workers along?

Though Coal India is a human resource-intensive industry,  the company maintains a harmonious management-union connect. I don’t foresee any disconnect with the unions as they are aware of the importance of CIL’s role in supplying the country’s prime energy fuel. A company of the magnitude of CIL is bound to have certain (industrial relation) IR issues and, when they crop up, we would sort them out cordially.

What’s your production target and capex plan for the next fiscal?

The projected production for FY16 is pegged at 548 million tonne (mt). While capex for FY16 is planned at R5,990 crore, we are in active dialogue with railways for linkages and are also planning other infrastructure development. This may lead to a considerable increase in our overall capex for FY16.

CIL is probably the country’s largest corporate employer. How do you plan to keep the workforce enthused?

A happy and contented workforce is pivotal to improving productivity at all levels. My focus would be on employee welfare and satisfaction through qualitative improvement in their basic amenities like housing, sanitation, health care and educational facilities in coalfield areas. Safety of miners and mines is a prime concern and no compromise would be made in that area.

For speedy redressal of employees’ grievances, CIL is strengthening its grievance handling mechanism at corporate and subsidiary levels through e-platforms. Our march towards meeting the targets will be a unified concerted effort from the management as well as the employees.

What are the challenges in achieving the ambitious target of 1-billion-tonne production by 2019?

Many. Cliched as it may sound, delayed forest and environmental clearances are a reality. land acquisition and possession are major concerns. Another big challenge is coal evacuation. There are large projects, especially in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Odisha, with huge production potential, but because of the absence of rail infrastructure, production is restricted. We can’t keep on producing a self-combustible product beyond a level and pile up the ground stock.

Of course, I am not flagging these issues as excuses. There is no paucity of effort on our side to reach the 1-billion-tonne production mark. These challenges have to be met head on and we are doing that.

Coal India and the Railways need to drive linkage rationalisation. If the issue is resolved speedily, production will increase as a natural corollary and, in turn, coal supply would increase. Also, coal-bearing states will benefit monetarily, in terms of royalty for the additional production. We are constantly coordinating with those who share mutually beneficial objectives, such as the state government and the railways. We are synergising efforts.

Are there plans to bring in better technology and make mining more mechanised for better utilisation?

There is no dearth of technology at our mines, especially the opencast ones. And technology upgrade and mine mechanisation are constant processes.

We were looking to boost productivity through the use of latest technology. Our strategies include technology upgrade at opencast mines by inducting high-capacity equipment. For underground mines, this will be done with continuous miner technology in large-scale, long-wall technology at select mines and man-riding system in major mines, and through the use of telemonitoring techniques. We are also using replicable time-tested technologies.

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