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Coal India unions call off strike

After an eight-hour session on Wednesday, five Coal India Ltd (CIL) worker unions called off their strike, after reaching a consensus with the government. Coal and power minister Piyush Goyal said issues faced by the mine workers were discussed and representatives were assured the CIL management wouldn’t go into private hands.

The unions were opposed to a provision in the Coal Mining (Special Provisions) Act that allowed commercial mining, apart from re-allocation of cancelled coal mines. “We put our stand that the ordinance wasn’t for de-nationalisation but for the progress of the coal mining sector,” Goyal said, adding the government would work closely with CIL and its management to ensure the safety of workers and protect their rights.

The government has also appointed a committee under the chairmanship of the joint secretary in the ministry, with representation from the five trade unions, CIL and Singareni Coalfields, to study various issues faced by mine workers and give a report on this soon.

Sutirtha Bhattacharya, CIL’s newly appointed chairman & managing director, said the loss in production due to the strike would be made up.

On Wednesday, CIL struggled to produce even a fourth of its average daily production of 1.6 million tonnes (mt). “Yesterday (on Tuesday), total production was 0.46 mt. So far, from what we have gathered, the situation has worsened in most parts of the country. Wednesday’s output might be about 0.4 mt,” an official said.

The strike had dealt a blow to all CIL subsidiaries except Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL). “Compared to the daily average production of 1,25,000 tonnes, we produced more than 75,000 tonnes on Tuesday; production was normal in the Asansol-Ranigunj coal field area. For ECL, the strike affected mining at Rajmahal alone,” said Niladri Roy, general manger of ECL.

For subsidiaries Bharat Coking Coal, Central Coalfields, South Eastern Coalfields, Western Coalfields, Northern Coalfields and Mahanadi Coalfields, the situation worsened on Wednesday.

“About 300 of CIL’s 438 coal mines have seen nearly zero output since Tuesday,” said an official.

Various state governments, including those of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, had voiced concern about a power crisis. On Wednesday, Goyal said all state governments had been assured were was no impending crisis.

According to the Central Electricity Authority, as of January 1, the average coal inventory at power plants was enough for nine days. However, 20 power plants had stocks of less than four days.

Government officials said the number of railway rakes starting from coal mines had fallen by half on Wednesday, the second day of the strike -from 235 a day to about 110. This led to a loss of about Rs 40 crore for Indian Railways.

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