NLC staff launch indefinite stir
Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, July 4: About 20,000 employees of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) launched an indefinite strike tonight, protesting against the Centre's decision to divest ten per cent of its equity in the public sector undertaking, even as Chief Minister M Karunanidhi urged the Union Government to drop the move.
After two days of ''work-to-rule'' agitation from July one and a day's hunger strike yesterday, the employees began the indefinite strike at 2200 hrs, ceasing lignite excavation and functioning of the three thermal power stations, disrupting power supply to the south.
As a majority of the workers, engineers and officials gathered in front of the main gate, Mr Rajavanniyan, General Secretary of the ruling DMK-affiliated Labour Progressive Front (LPF) announced the indefinite strike.
With mining operation already coming to a standstill, power supply to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry is set to be disrupted as generation of power in the first thermal station (600 MW), first extension (420 MW) and second thermal station (1470 MW) would come to a halt.
As the agitating employees declared that they would continue the stir till the Centre withdrew its decision, Mr Karunanidhi sent an urgent fax message to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi to immediately withdraw the decision on disinvestment stating ''the situation in NLC is becoming serious day-by-day.'' Meanwhile, the district administration has pressed into service more than 3,000 police personnel, drawn from 18 neighbouring districts, to maintain law and order.
While about 2,000 Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel would guard vital installations inside the sprawling 23,000 acre complex, the state police would take care of security arrangements outside the complex, police said.
The NLC Management had issued a notice threatening to invoke provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 but employees, who had the backing of almost all trade unions, including the CITU, AITUC, INTUC, LPF, ATP and Engineers' and Officers' Associations, would not relent. In all 14 trade unions, four Engineers' Association and one Graduate Engineers' Association have resorted to the strike. They had also called for a district-wide bandh tomorrow.
The trade unions, however, decided to produce 54 MW of power, using furnace oil, to meet the requirements of NLC township, hospitals, the ground water control department, which pumps out water from mines and machinery operation.
Taking a fresh bid to end the impasse, Mr Karunanidhi, in his fax message to Prime Minister, said the Centre's assurance that preferential treatment would be given to the employees in the disinvestment, did not fully meet the demands of the employees and wanted the Centre withdraw its proposed disinvestment immediately.
He said the situation in NLC was becoming serious day-by-day and at ''any time this may turn out to be a grave law and order problem.
Further continuance of the problem may result in break down in the supply of electricity not only to our state but also to the entire south,'' Mr Karunanidhi warned.
Criticising the Chief Minister for his suggestion that the Centre could sell the shares to the employees, Opposition Leader and Former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa pledged her support to the striking workers and wished them all success.
They should carry on the stir till the Centre withdrew its decision on disinvestment, she said and alleged the Union Government had an ulterior motive in selling the shares to mobilise a paltry sum of Rs 1,100 crore.
All political parties in the state, including the ruling DMK, had expressed their solidarity with the striking employees.