Report by based on inputs sent by Com. A. Venu Madhav, Vice President, Singareni Retired Employees Association, Hyderabad
Current developments prove that the sword of privatization and contractualization continues to hang around Singareni workers’ necks. In the future, under the Coal Mines Act 2018, the Center will have the right to privatize any new mine in Singareni through auction.
After the enactment of the Act, the Chief Ministers of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and other states wrote to the Center to allocate coal mines in their respective states to Coal India, forcing the Center to allocate some coal mines to Coal India. The then Chief Minister of Telangana, however, did not write a letter to the Center asking it to allocate the Singareni coal mines to Singareni.
Singareni has estimated that about 8,791 million tonnes of coal are stored in the earth’s crust in the Godavari and Pranahita river basins in the state of Telangana. These reserves have so far been controlled by the state government. This right was formerly granted to Singareni Collieries by the Nizam government when it nationalised Singareni Collieries as a state-owned enterprise in 1945. Now the law gives the Center the right to open new coal mines belonging to Singareni. The privatisation threat continues to hang over Singareni’s head, making it impossible for Singareni to open new mines.
TBGKS (Singareni Recognised Trade Union), AITUC (Singareni Representative Labor Union), INTUC, CITU, HMS, BMS and other trade unions staged various protests against the auction process and the privatization of Singareni. Eventually, all the unions affiliated to various political parties came together and formed a Joint Action Committee (JAC). Along with privatization, various Singareni internal issues were added to the charter of demands and a strike notice was given to the employer and the Central Labour Department. The three days strike from December 9 to 11 in Singareni was successful in protest of privatisation of Singareni mines, under the auspices of JAC. The strike affected about 2 lakh tonnes of coal production per day. The three-day strike is estimated to have cost the company nearly Rs 200 crore financially.
As TRS affiliated TBGKS was also involved in the strike, the Union Coal Minister criticised the strike by calling it a state-sponsored strike. He forgot that his party’s organisation is a member JAC.
The chief minister also wrote a letter to Center during the strike, asking it to withdraw the auction of coal mines and not to privatize them. However, the sword of privatization is still hanging over Singareni’s neck. The state government has prepared reports for the Center to explore coal deposits in another 12 coal mines and allocate 4 coal mines, earmarked for auction, to Singareni Collieries for production. There is still a need for the Chief Minister to put pressure on the Center.
During talks at the RLC in the wake of the strike, the Singareni management told the unions that the privatization of coal mines was not in their hands and that they would hold talks with the Union Coal Minister on December 15, 16. However, the talks did not take place as the management did not get an appointment with the Union Minister.
At the same time, Union Coal Minister Prahlad Joshi gave time to the BMS, which had joined the Singareni strike against privatization with all trade unions. BMS leaders in Delhi asked him to exempt Singareni coal mines from the auction and a memorandum was submitted in this regard. According to the BMS, the Union Minister had responded positively to the exclusion of Singeni coal mines from the auction.
It is necessary for all the trade unions involved in the strike to go jointly to the Union Minister; unilateral meeting with the Minister raises many suspicions. As the BMS is a trade union of the party in power at the Center, the Union Minister gave time to those leaders.
The Center did not abandon the process of auctioning of mines, despite the assurance given to BMS. On 16 December 2021, in the presence of Union Coal Minister Prahlad Joshi, the Union Coal Ministry announced the launch of a tender on the website for 59 coal mines which include mines in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Singareni workers and their unions have to remain united and strongly resist all attempts of privatization of Singareni coal mines.