By Antara Mukherjee:

Following the current government’s plan to privatize coal mining and private sale, miners across the country organized by five different unions had launched a five day strike. All negotiations between the bureaucrats and unions had failed. As a country whose maximum energy needs are met by coal production, companies like Coal-India own most of such mines and have a monopoly over it. Coal-India also happens to employ maximum number of miners within the country. Millions of miners have staged protests in the fear that if privatized, they will face job cuts and other cuts in benefit. In October 2014, the current government had introduced the idea of privatization of coal mines, even legitimizing it by making the Coal Mine ordinance.

Picture credits: Biswarup Ganguly for Wikimedia Commons.

Partly the reasons for this strike are job related. Millions of workers who were on the strike were worried about job security. Privatization would mean that they could be fired without any questions asked. The fact that the government will further allow private companies to mine areas with coal for themselves proves how dangerous it could be for our natural resources which the government will no longer have any control on. Once a certain industry is made private, everything that happens under it, work conditions, terms of work, job security, wages and other such factors become private as well, making any sort of questioning absolutely useless.

Also since the government talks about letting private companies use the coal they mine for their own use, no one will be able to check how much coal will be sold off and taken outside the country for personal benefit if this ordinance is brought into action. It is this answerability issue which is the seemingly most prone to be ill-managed by predatory corporate agenda. Corporate interests can’t be in tune with national ones and herein lays the main problem articulated by trade union leaders and their fellow miners. Such nefarious under the table deals of coal lost will surely also involve government officials, politicians and other unscrupulous elements. There will be no scope for any probe or of any political will to ensure true value of our natural resource lost to private players. The continuous propaganda of ‘corruption’ and ‘inefficiency’ of the public sector facilitate justification of privatization which supposedly guarantees‘incorruptibility’ and ‘efficiency’! The fact of the matter, however, is that the private sector in our country is outside of the RTI and of any governmental auditing. Issues of incorruptibility and efficiency actually shroud ruthless destruction of labor laws, environmental laws and any moral or ethical responsibility.

That means that even for those people who don’t lose their jobs, there are no guarantees of any social security nor of any grievance redressal mechanism. Our legal system can’t intervene to check on the working conditions of the miners, their access to health and other basic amenities, minimum wage laws and maximum working hours. The families of these miners would have to fend for themselves in terms of their children’s education and their women would be vulnerable to all kinds of abuse. This induced condition of un-belonging will become more crisis ridden as when many people are left jobless, they will be forced to emigrate to towns and cities in large numbers. This will lead to break up of social groups and community living, rendering many homeless and scattered and all alone. The social impact of corporatization could be devastating.

The shrinking of the State will surely render democratic processes very weak and farcical. The implication of privatization, therefore, also extends to our political disposition. What kinds of citizens will be involved in our future electoral processes? Illiterate, unhealthy and bare survivors of hunger, abuse and social injustices! The whole idea sounds very scary and challenging. Religious fanaticism, sycophancy and slavery will spread all across the nation as large extents of its mines go under the control of the greedy corporate sector, for whom the sole value is that of wealth creation! The question, of course, is for whom? Surely the miners working under corporate will never be the beneficiaries of this wealth!

A strike anyway cannot go on forever because the miners are poor people but they are still responsible citizens. After the strike entered the second day, negotiations finally paid off with the striker’s calling off the strike. Piyush Goyal, the Coal and Power Minister, has been able to negotiate and conclude that the ordinance will be taken into further consideration and not finalized into an act as of now. Meanwhile he has promised to double energy production by facilitating using renewable methods like solar and wind energy. With the issue of low production of energy generation during the strikes and otherwise, Coal India has assured Goyal that they will meet the requirement soon enough. As of now there is still a lot of uncertainty as to what will be the final decision to the so-called ‘solution’ of privatizing; this seemingly is a very simple and effective solution in the short term but the miners think otherwise and are being represented by a handful of politicians and intellectuals. In the long term this could endanger the environment, workers and impact the whole country in relation to price rise for energy due to privatization of coal.