Bench orders notice to union leaders to file their replies in two weeks

The Madras High Court on Wednesday restrained the labour unions of Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) from going on an indefinite strike. However, regular employees and contract workers decided to go ahead with their strike, as planned.

Following a writ appeal from NLC general manager, the First Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice R.K. Agrawal and Justice T. Raja gave the interim order restraining 17 unions/associations from going on the indefinite strike on July 3 or any other day.

The Bench ordered notice to those union leaders to file their replies in two weeks.

The unions have decided to go on an indefinite strike opposing the decision of Union government to disinvest 5 per cent shares of the NLC. While employees and contract workers favoured continuing with the strike plan, officers’ unions decided not to participate in the protest in the view of the High Court order.

In the petition, the NLC said, “Mining and generation activities will be severely hampered if the labour unions are striking. If the functioning of NLC is interrupted, the entire mining area will be flooded with unimaginable consequences. None of the unions has a legal right to indulge in any mode of agitation either within or at the gates or in the vicinity of the installations. The proposed strike is neither in the interest of the country, which is facing power shortage, more so in Tamil Nadu, nor in the interest of employees of the Corporation.”

The petitioner also said conciliation proceedings before the Assistant Labour Commissioner had been adjourned without specifying a fresh date. The proposed strike, in the absence of a proper legal notice, would be illegal. The Corporation’s effort to secure relief from the competent civil court was unsuccessful.

“As result of the actions of the unions, a tense and fearsome situation has arisen in Neyveli. It is evident that loyal workers who are not opposed to disinvestment or neutral persons will be prevented from attending office or will be discouraged to venture out of their home,” it said.

The NLC management filed the appeal after a single judge ordered notices on its writ petition, without passing any interim order.

Security blanket

A.V. Ragunathan writes from Cuddalore:

The entire Neyveli Township and peripheral areas have been brought under the security blanket to avert any possible law and order problem that might arise owing to the surcharged atmosphere prevailing over the Centre’s move to disinvest 5 per cent of the NLC shares.

Inspector General of Police (North Zone) P. Kannappan told The Hindu that two-tier security arrangements had been put in place. While the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) would provide the “core security” inside the mines, thermal power stations and office premises, the police personnel would keep vigil in the entire township and surrounding areas. Since the NLC employees owing allegiance to the registered and recognised unions and the officials had closed ranks to vociferously oppose the Centre’s move, the security apparatus had to be suitably strengthened at vulnerable places, he said.

Mr. Kannappan said at least some employees or officials ought to be available to carry on minimal operation required to protect the costly equipment from getting unduly damaged. If such employees encountered any problem in reaching the work spot it would create tension and lead to unrest. Therefore, the police would be duty bound to protect the loyal employees.

He said he had mobilised quite a substantial number of personnel from the entire north zone, including the districts of Cuddalore, Villupuram, Thiruvannamalai, Vellore, Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur, besides from Tiruchi. Mr. Kannappan said open line patrolling was also being done all along the railway track passing through the Neyveli town. “We are closely monitoring the situation and the forces would be further augmented wherever required,” he said.

Delisting

Delisting the company could be the only solution to the vexatious issue, asserted M. Shanmugam, State general secretary of the Labour Progressive Front (affiliated to the DMK).

Mr Shanmugham, who came to Neyveli to participate in the hunger-strike on Tuesday, told The Hindu that it was an anathema for him to compare the NLC with any other public sector undertakings. If the functioning of the NLC was crippled, the mining and power generation operations would be disrupted causing power crisis in the entire southern region, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry.

The LPF leader also did not favour the proposal of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa that if stake sale was inevitable, the Centre could make over the shares to the State government undertakings. The LPF leader termed “a deviatory tactic” the statement of Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram that the Centre would consider the proposal to sell the NLC shares to the State government undertakings if the move complied with the SEBI rules.

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