NEW DELHI/KOLKATA: Coal production in India was hit Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of coal workers started a five-day strike against alleged moves towards commercial mining of the fuel.
The nationwide strike, the biggest in the sector in nearly four decades, could affect several industries and lead to power cuts, say industry sources.
Coal workers in most coal-producing states struck work following calls from central trade unions including the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) that is linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.
In Kolkata, union leader Jibon Roy put the estimated daily loss due to the strike at Rs.1,500 crore.
The strike badly hit work in the state-run Coal India Ltd (CIL) and its subsidiaries, accounting for nearly 82 percent of domestic output.
"Not even one percent of the workforce of CIL joined duty today (Tuesday)," said Roy, general secretary of the Left-leaning All India Coal Workers Federation.
Coal production in Jharkhand was badly affected, particularly in Central Coalfield Ltd.
Of the 58 collieries, production was zero in 39, partial in eight while 11 collieries were functional, a CCL source told IANS.
CCL produces around 1.50 lakh tonnes daily but output fell more than 80 percent.
At Bharat Coking Coal Ltd, production was badly hit, with the strike impacting more than 70 percent of the workforce.
Striking unions say disinvestment in coal industry was "practically leading to slavery of the workers".
"We are firm on not allowing disinvestment and want a return of the coalfields declared illegally auctioned by the Supreme Court to CIL," Roy said.
Basant Kumar Rai, vice president of the RSS-affiliated BMS said: "The private companies will come and sell coal at depressed prices and CIL will have no option but to cut jobs to reduce costs and compete with them."
All five major unions of CIL - BMS, Indian National Trade Union Congress, All India Trade Union Congress, Centre of Indian Trade Unions and Hind Mazdoor Sangh - called the strike from first shift Jan 6 to third shift of Jan 10.
CIL operations in Odisha were hit too.
There was no production and dispatch of coal from any of the two fields run by Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), a CIL subsidiary, spokesman Dikken Mehera told IANS.
MCL, with its headquarters in Burla in Sambalpur district, operates 15 open cast and six underground mines in the state.
With a daily output estimated at 400,000 tonnes, MCL supplies coal to power companies in south India and Odisha including the power utility NTPC and aluminium maker Nalco.
However, the strike had virtually no impact on Singareni Collieries Co. Ltd. (SCCL) in Telangana where the management announced near normal production of 1.5 lakh to 1.6 lakh tonnes.
A SCCL spokesman told IANS that the strike call had no major impact as the major recognised trade union, the Telangana Boggu Ghani Karmika Sangham (BGKS), was not participating.
SCCL general manager S. Chandrasekhar told IANS that "all mines are working. The attendance is partial in underground mines but normal in open cast mines".
He said 18,000 out of 34,000 employees in the first shift (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) came to work while about 10,000 were on strike. "We expect normal production of 1.5 lakh tonnes," Chandrasekhar said.
Jointly owned by the Telangana and the central governments, SSCL operates 15 open cast and 34 underground mines in four districts of Telangana. It has around 59,000 employees.
But union leader Roy claimed that even in Sangreni Collieries, 60 percent of the workforce stayed away from work.
Industry sources have said that all sectors like steel, cement and iron would be hit by the strike. And power sector would be hit hard.
With a fifth of the 100 power plants monitored by the Central Electricity Authority having coal stocks of less than four days, the strike may trigger power cuts in parts of the country.