Coal India unions called off their strike late on 07-01-2015 night after marathon talks with Coal, Power and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal, who assured the trade unions that the government would protect the interests of the stateowned behemoth and its employees. However, Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU, disagreed with other unions. "We disagree with the stand of the other four unions and our opposition to the coal ordinance will continue in the form of demonstrations tomorrow (Thursday). There is no reason why the five-day strike should have been called off in two days by the other unions since nothing concrete has been assured to the workers," he said. India's coal sector, a state monopoly, has languished for years in the absence of competition and failed to meet the demands of key consumers such as power, steel and cement plants. The absence of modern technology, delays in clearances and overall inefficiency have made India a large importer of coal despite having huge reserves of the mineral. The fuel helps meet more than half of India's commercial energy requirements.
Goyal intervened after talks between the unions and bureaucrats failed. The Centre has agreed to look into the demands of the unions by setting up a panel that includes a senior coal ministry official and representatives from Coal India and the unions.
"It is a historic day today. Now India's coal sector will make great progress," Goyal told reporters at a briefing after the talks ended around 10 pm. He said union leaders had promised to make up for the lost output due to the strike. Goyal also assured these leaders that there was no plan to privatise the coal sector, but said the government was keen to ensure coal supply to small and medium enterprises, which were desperate for fuel.
The strike had pushed many power plants to the brink of shutdown. Coal supply had fallen to 40% of normal as workers stopped work on Tuesday for a five-day strike against a clause in the coal ordinance that allows private companies to mine coal and sell it in the open market. The strike was the biggest protest by Coal India unions in nearly four decades and it directly attacked one of the biggest reform measures undertaken by the Modi government.
K Rai, vice-president of BJPaffiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, said: "We have been assured that Coal India will not be privatised. Also, to look into our demands a joint secretary-level committee has been formed. It has our union members as representatives on it, too, and the report of this committee will be submitted within three months, so we called off our strike."
When the government approved the ordinance that allows private firms to mine coal and sell it in the open market, it said CIL's interests would be protected. It also rejected calls to split the company.
However, workers fear that private competition would significantly weaken the company.
Industry had expressed serious concern about the strike, which had caused losses of about .'300 crore. "The joint call of strike by five trade unions at Coal India mines would bring the entire economy to a grinding halt as the country would lose production of over 1 million tonnes of coal per day," industry body Assocham said before the strike was called off.
Coal India's subsidiaries Mahanadi Coalfields, Eastern Coalfields, Western Coalfields and Bharat Coking Coal, which constitute more than 70% of CIL's output on a normal day, supplied almost nothing on Tuesday. However, South Eastern Coalfields and Northern Coalfields, which supply around 30% of the company's production, managed to ensure about 70% of their normal output.
Data from the Central Electricity Authority shows that on January 1, out of 100 power stations with a total capacity of 114,548 MW, 20 had coal stocks for less than four days and 42 had enough fuel for less than a week. With dwindling supply, coal stocks at some power plants had started to turn critical — inadequate for even a day. The largest power producer, NTPC, saw at least three of its plants turn critical. These were Unchahar Power Plant and Rihand Thermal Power Station in Uttar Pradesh, and Vindhyachal Thermal Power Station in Madhya Pradesh.
Meanwhile, Simhadri Power Plant in Andhra Pradesh, which has imported coal stocks, cannot function up to optimum levels because its entire volume of coal stocks is of imported fuel. The plant cannot function unless this high-energy-content coal is mixed with domestic fuel of low energy content. This plant and almost all plants of Indian power producers are designed to handle low-energycontent coal. They cannot be run solely on imported coal.