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Coal India workers protest over easing foreign investment rules, output hit

NEW DELHI/BHUBANESWAR (Reuters) - Protests by workers at Coal India Ltd on Tuesday over implementation of reforms including allowing 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in coal mining paralysed operations and hit production, company officials and union leaders said.

FILE PHOTO: A worker shovels coal in a supply truck at a yard on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo

The company, which accounts for over four-fifths of India’s coal output and employs about 300,000 people, registered a 30% attendance due to the strike, which included about 17,000 executives, a Coal India official told Reuters.

The world’s largest coal miner declined to comment on the total output loss due to the strike. India depends on coal-based utilities for three-quarters of its electricity generation.

India’s cabinet last month approved a plan allowing 100% FDI in coal mining, in a bid to attract investments from global miners. Workers at the state-run firm are opposing this move, union leaders said.

Five unions had notified the company of a strike on Tuesday, Coal India Chairman Anil Kumar Jha said in a notice to employees, adding that another union had issued a five-day strike notice.

D.D. Ramanandan, general secretary of the All India Coal Workers Federation - an umbrella body of 22 coal workers’ unions - told Reuters that 85%-90% of coal production was affected due to the strikes.

India’s Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi said the government was trying to negotiate with the striking workers.

“Government is quite open (to negotiations) and the major impact is today,” Joshi told reporters in New Delhi on the sidelines of Indian Energy Forum coal conference on Tuesday.

Protesters affiliated to the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), a union seen to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), staged demonstrations outside the headquarters of Coal India unit Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), an MCL official said.

MCL spokesman Dikken Mehra said the unit expected to lose about 90% of average daily production.

BMS leaders stopped employees from entering MCL’s headquarters in Odisha, the official told Reuters.

Members of the BMS staged sit-down protests in July demanding a safety audit of all mines in the region following the death of four miners, hitting MCL’s output for 14 days.

Coal India’s output during the seven months ended Aug. 31 was down 2.8%. The company’s shares, which have lost about a sixth of their value since the beginning of the year, closed 2.2% lower at 198.15 rupees ($2.79) on Tuesday.

($1 = 71.0100 Indian rupees)

Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan; Additional reporting by Subrata Nagchoudhury in KOLKATA; editing by David Evans