Youth Congress workers demonstrate at SECL premises in escalation of coal protests

In an indication of growing restlessness against the prolonged coal shortage plaguing the Non-Power sector at multiple industrial hubs in India, Indian Youth Congress (IYC) workers on Monday staged a forceful demonstration outside the South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) premises in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh.

Protesting that coal produced in Chhattisgarh was being transported outside the state without first meeting the urgent requirements of local industries, over 500 workers of the Indian Youth Congress participated in the protest. They claimed that despite repeated appeals to governing bodies on the continued coal shortage faced by CPPs (Captive Power Plants), there has been no respite to the situation, compelling workers unions to join hands to voice their concerns.

Led by Shyam Narayan Soni, Former President, Youth Congress, Korba, the protesting workers also submitted a petition to the CMD, SECL with a plea that the continued dispatch of coal out of the state was hampering the viability of local industries, which could lead to mass unemployment if left unaddressed.

Speaking on the issue, Soni said, “Despite Chhattisgarh being a coal rich state, the local industries that are totally dependent on coal-fired CPPs are left with only a single day’s worth of coal reserves. This is because SECL has been dispatching the coal outside of the state at the cost of local industries and even locally not allocating the coal committed to CPPs. This is a very precarious situation, and the closure of the industries will lead to massive job losses and unrest in the state. Therefore, we urge SECL to restore the supply of coal to industries on an urgent basis.”

Indicating a possible escalation of the protests, he added, “If this situation is not addressed, workers and people from the state will camp outside the Parliament of India in the next few days”.

Chhattisgarh presently accounts for over 18 per cent (56 billion tonnes) of the country’s total coal reserves. More than 250 CPP-based industries in the state require 30 million tonnes of coal per year for smooth operations, which comprises only 19 per cent of the total SECL production. However, the power plants of Chhattisgarh receive just 40 per cent of the coal produced by SECL while 60 per cent of the coal is being dispatched outside the state. As per contractual obligations, SECL is expected to supply 65 million tonnes of coal to the Non Power Sector.

However, due to imprudent and ineffective management, the non-power sector has been provided only 30 lakh tonnes instead of the required 50 lakh tonnes of coal per month it is supposed to receive through auction.

In the petition, the Indian Youth Congress workers highlighted the adverse consequences that the situation was leading to. Despite being the largest subsidiary of Coal India Limited (CIL) with an estimated production of 165 million tonnes per annum, the supply of coal from SECL to Chhattisgarh-based industries has been repeatedly reduced, negatively affecting local industries. The workers felt that the interests of the state of Chhattisgarh were being deliberately ignored and accused SECL management of adopting an arbitrary attitude towards the state by not honouring agreements with industries.

Keeping the above concerns in mind, they demanded the SECL management’s urgent intervention and support in regularizing the supply of sufficient coal to state-based industries, failing which there would be further protests. This year, when industries were hoping for a post-pandemic recovery, they have instead been pushed back to the brink of closure by the prolonged coal shortage. The coal supplies, if not suitably met could jeopardize the existence of local industries and threaten the survival of MSMEs and lakhs of people dependent on their continued operations.

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