Frustrated over frequent disruptions in the functioning of its bottling plants in the State owing to strikes and hartals, the PSU oil companies have initiated efforts to secure a legal remedy by getting the bottling operations under the Kerala Essential Services Maintenance Act (KESMA).
The State government had brought LPG transportation and distribution under KESMA sometime ago at the request of public sector oil companies, thus empowering district administrations to invoke its provisions to firmly deal with issues that could lead to disruption of LPG supply.
But the vital bottling operations continue to remain outside the realm of KESMA, and to rectify it, IOC, in its capacity as the State-level coordinator for public sector oil companies, has approached the High Court. IOC sources said that KESMA would be successful in preventing frequent disruptions only when the officials concerned decide to invoke its provisions.
IOC owns and operates three of the seven LPG bottling plants in Kerala with a combined capacity of 360 Thousand Metric Tonnes (TMT) per annum. This is likely to get raised to 405 TMT with the completion of capacity enhancement at its bottling plant at Chelari in Malappuram.
The combined bottling capacity of all three public sector oil companies stands at 715 TMT, which is much higher than the State's annual LPG requirement of 670 TMT. Of this, IOC's share comes to 339 TMT.
“Despite having an installed capacity adequate enough to meet the demand for at least the next five years, production is not to the optimum level, thanks to the all too frequent labour issues and various strikes,” a senior IOC official told The Hindu. For instance, the bottling plant at Paripally in Kollam has the capacity to fill about 42,000 cylinders a day compared to its actual turnout of 36,000 cylinders.
Even that is not being maintained now owing to a ‘go-slow’ strike of employees over persisting differences with the contractor engaged.
This is likely to continue till the second week of April when a meeting has been scheduled by the Regional Labour Commissioner to resolve the issue.
The plant at Chelari is also functioning below its capacity of about 20,000 cylinders per day, churning out 3,000 cylinders less due to a pending demand for wage revision. “We commissioned a new production enhancement equipment at the plant last October, raising the turnout rate from 50 loads a day to 70 loads. But workers refused to increase productivity accordingly before conceding to raise it marginally by just five more loads following conciliatory initiatives,” the official said.
The plant at Udayamperur was also operating below its functional capacity where 40,000 cylinders were getting filled a day instead of 54,000, he said.