(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 03 , 2008
THREAT TO PUBLIC SECTOR COAL INDUSTRY
M K Pandhe
Energy crisis in the country is looming large due to high prices of petroleum all over the world and the public sector Coal India is failing to meet the national demand which is growing faster than the supply of coal. The country has to import more than 30 million tonnes of coal, while CIL management is planning to close down several of the mines having good reserves of coal. When Coal India is on the verge of getting Navaratna status from the government of India, its character as a leading public sector undertaking is getting eroded day by day.
Though international prices have gone up higher than the domestic prices, the public sector coal mines are unable to take advantage of the situation and strengthen their production capacity. The miserable failure of the Coal India management to develop underground mining and produce more coal is helping the government in its design to introduce privatisation through the backdoor methods.
An atmosphere is created in the country that Coal India cannot meet the requirements of energy in the country and hence we must go for nuclear energy in spite of unfavorable deal for the country. The country has sufficient coal reserves, which will meet our requirement for at least 150 years. The need to tackle the question of self sufficiency in energy through power exploitation of natural resources is of paramount importance under these circumstances.
The trade unions in coal industry have expressed firm opinion that public sector coal industry can meet national energy requirements, if the government of India adopts a proper policy towards indigenous development of coal industry.
RISE IN COAL
The coal production has increased over a period of years but still much lower than the total demand for coal in the country. It things are properly planned it is possible for Coal India to supply all the requirements of the country and trade unions are fully prepared to co-operate in achieving self-sufficiency in coal production in public sector. Lack of sufficient investment and policy of privatisation are responsible for this inability of coal industry.
Coal production under CIL increased from 268.14 million tonnes in 2000-01 to 379.46 million tones in 2007-08, a net rise of 41.52 per cent. However, most of the rise was in open cast mines which rose 217.58 million tonnes in 2000-01 to 335.91 million tonnes in 2007-08. The underground production however declined from 50.56 to 43.54 million tonnes during the same period. It clearly shows the utter neglect of production planning in underground mines.
When overall production has increased, the manpower decreased drastically which resulted in substantial rise in workload of the workers. The output per man shift in all coal companies under Coal India can be seen from the following table:
RISE IN COAL PRODUCTIVITY IN INDIA
2000-01 to 2007-08
(Output per manshift in tonnes)
Name of Company
Rise in %
Despite introduction of expensive machinery the productivity is inadequate with the result that cost of production goes up. According to the official statistics the productivity of SDL and LHD machines was as follows:-
AVERAGE PRODUCTIVITY OF SDL & LHD
(Fig. In tonnes per day on roll basis )
Name of Company
Performance of some companies is extremely poor and the CIL management has not paid sufficient attention to the question of utilisation of equipment in the mines.
The chairman of Coal India Partha Bhattacharjee advocated the introduction of multi-skilled jobs to improve the efficiency of the coal miners. While some trade union representatives supported the concept others including CITU did not agree with the proposal.
The representatives pointed out that the manpower in coal industry had been declining rapidly. Five years ago six and a half lakh workers were employed in Coal India which has now come down to four and a half lakhs. After retirement of a worker, the management does not replace him, with the result that the manpower is declining continuously in coal mines. The trade unions cannot consider the question of multi-skilled jobs, unless the CIL management agrees to maintain the existing strength of employment. It was also pointed out that multi-skilling is likely to lead to deskilling of the workers. Most of coal workers are above fifty years of age and they are unable to resort to multi-skilled jobs. This aspect should also be taken into consideration by the management.
Some trade unions stated that the multi-skilled concept should be introduced voluntarily. The CITU pointed that VRS was not implemented voluntarily and workers were compelled by the management to accept it by force.
In one coal mine the multi-skill concept was introduced by the management and later abandoned it after an accident in the mine. The trade unions demanded that the matter should be enquired to find out whether the mishap was due to the introduction of multi-skilled jobs.
The managements of ECL and BCCL put forward a proposal for closure of mines since they were “uneconomic”. The ECL management proposed closure of nine “uneconomic” mines. While in case of 17 other mines attempts could be made to make them viable.
In BCCL, out of 49 mines, seven have been closed due to water logging, fire explosion during 2004-07. The management proposed to close down 17 coal mines on the plea that a heavy loss per tonne of coal production is incurred by the management.
In SECL, out of 68 underground mines only 26 are making profit. Regarding the loss making, a Steering Committee has been appointed by the management to go into the causes of sickness and suggest methods for their revival.
The representatives of INTUC agreed for closure of the so called uneconomic mines but representatives of CITU, AITUC, BMS and HMS opposed the arbitrary closure of these mines. The unions suggested making a joint study of individual mines and make attempts to turn them into economically viable mines.
The trade union representatives pointed out that many mines have become uneconomic due to shortage of manpower and necessary equipment for enhancing the production of the mines. They proposed that potentially viable mines should be revived through necessary investment and induction of manpower. Several mines earmarked for closure have huge reserve of coal and efforts should be made to extract all quantity of coal before the closure of mines. Coal being a non-renewable source, its conservation should be taken into account.
When Coal India has been attempting to close down the mines despite having huge reserves, it is planning to form a new company along with other companies, “Coal Videsh” and start coal production in Australia, Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria etc. The CITU pointed out that India has sufficient stock of coal which can be properly utilised to produce coal for energy requirements of the country.
Coal India produced 379.45 million tones of coal which was 5.1 per cent higher than last year. However the target of increasing production by 7.6 per cent was not fulfilled by it. The estimated demand of coal is above 600 million tones during the current plan. Since CIL is unable to produce the required demand of coal the government is now trotting the idea of privatising coal industry.
India has plenty of methane gas trapped below the coal seams which is not produced so far. According to an estimate we can produce 91 million standard metres of methane gas per day, which can meet half of our demand. Coal India in co-operation with ONGC and Gas Authority of India can produce this gas economically if proper steps are taken.
However, the government of India is planning to offer coal blocks to private parties to produce the gas and make quick money from the production of this gas. Anil Ambani has already shown his interest in the project. Some Western Australian MNCs are also having eyes on the methane gas availability in Indian coal mines.
Trade unions in coal mines have proposed that the production of methane gas can be done only in public sector. They will oppose production of such gas through MNCs or Indian private sector companies. They have disapproved even joint sector with MNCs and Indian private companies.
Several mines have been abandoned in the past by private and public sector coal companies without extracting all the coal available in the mines. Management proposed collaboration with some foreign companies for joint projects to restart coal production in these mines. At present some of these mines are illegally being operated by some private producers which are involved in periodic accidents.
When trade unions opposed joint sector with foreign companies, management stated that the CIL has no technology to restart the production of such mines. The management of CIL despite having qualified technical manpower had not developed any technology in this regard. The trade unions therefore noted that the management can have technical collaboration with foreign agencies but they objected to forming a joint venture with them.
While the regular employment is declining at a fast rate, the contract labour is engaged in coal industry at a faster rate. At present, more than one third of the coal production is done through contract workers and the trend is increasing day by day.
Though Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act provides that contract labour cannot be engaged in permanent and perennial nature of jobs, the government of India is allowing engagement of contract labour in coal industry. The government has exempted ECL and BCCL from the purview of the Act itself for five years.
All trade unions demanded that the illegal practice should be stopped forthwith and the contract workers should be paid the wages at par with regular employees. The management’s proposal to pay median of the state government minimum wage and the minimum of the wage fixed by JBCCI to the contract workers was not accepted by the trade unions. They proposed that in the forthcoming NCWA-VIII there should be a clause regarding wages and working conditions of contract workers and they should be paid at par with regular employees.
The struggle of the coal mine workers for a faster development of public sector coal mining industry and opposing all methods of dubious privatisation is gaining strength all over the country. The united movement in coal industry is prepared to give full cooperation to achieve the objective of meeting national requirement of coal if the government adopted the pro-public sector policy and strengthen the role of workers in making public sector successful. Unions in coal industry are preparing to organise complete strike all over India on 20 August 2008.