Bhubaneswar/Kolkata/Hyderabad: Coal production in India was hit Tuesday as around five lakh workers began a five-day strike to protest moves towards commercial mining of the fuel.
Trade union leader Jibon Roy called it the second biggest industrial action in almost four decades and put the estimated daily loss at Rs.1,500 crore.
State-run Coal India Ltd (CIL) has near monopoly over coal production and accounts for nearly 82 percent of domestic output.
"Not even one percent of the total workforce of CIL joined duty today nationally," Roy said in Kolkata.
Roy, general secretary of the Left-affiliated All India Coal Workers Federation, said the unions would meet central government representatives to discuss the future of disinvestment in coal industry which he said "is 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.
All five major unions of CIL - Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), 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, its spokesman Dikken Mehera told IANS.
"Workers did not join the first shift at 6 a.m.," Mehera told IANS.
MCL, with its headquarters in Burla in Sambalpur district, about 340 km from Bhubaneswar, operates 15 open cast and six underground mines in the state.
With a daily output estimated at 400,000 tonnes, MCL supplies coal to a number of power companies in southern India and Odisha including the state power utility NTPC, Talcher Thermal Power Station and aluminium-maker Nalco.
However, the strike had only partial impact on Singareni Collieries Co Ltd (SCCL) in Telangana where the management expected 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 recognized 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.
And with a fifth of the 100 power plants monitored by the Central Electricity Authority having coal stocks of less than four days, the strike could trigger power cuts in parts of the country.