Government acts tough,forces blackmailers to blink on Day 3

Striking officers of the Oil Sector Officers Association blinked on the third day of their indefinite stir after the Cabinet ordered arrests.

Written by Amitav Ranjan | New Delhi | Published:January 10, 2009 11:36 am

Striking officers of the Oil Sector Officers Association (OSOA) blinked on the third day of their indefinite stir after the Cabinet,largely prodded by Home Minister P Chidambaram,took a hard stance,ordering arrests and calling in the Army.

First Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) caved in,then Oil India Ltd,and the domino effect saw the rest of the loose cartel made up of officers’ unions of 14 public sector oil and gas undertakings follow suit.

The wait at the petrol pumps and for cooking gas would end by Monday morning,if not before,assured Indian Oil Corp Chairman and Managing Director Sarthak Behuria whose company supplies half of the country’s demand.

The nation came to a standstill on Friday with most people queuing at pumps to get their vehicles filled up. The stoppage of natural gas in the Hazira-Vijaipur-Jagdishpur pipeline — due to shut down of processing units at Oil & Natural Gas Corp’s facilities had crippled supplies to fertilizer and power units along the route,forcing them to shut down.

Compressed gas supply in Mumbai—which also got stopped,disrupting public transport in the financial capital—was restored even before the strike broke. And the national Capital was saved from a similar situation that was expected from Saturday.

“Everything will be normal by tomorrow,” said Petroleum Minister Murli Deora,who had planned to issue ads explaining the government’s position. He had been asked by the Cabinet to inform the people of the government’s stance of not bowing to the OSOA’s demands. GAIL Chairman UD Choubey said HVJ pipeline will be recommissioned by Saturday and supplies will resume once the transportation company receives gas from ONGC.

OSOA President Amit Kumar,who was incommunicado since the strike began on January 7,claimed that his outfit withdrew the strike late evening on assurances given by Deora for considering their demands at a meeting with him last night. But Deora countered this,saying no assurance had been given and OSOA demands would be considered by a committee of ministers headed by Chidambaram. Incidentally,Kumar had stated,after the meeting which went well past midnight,that talks had failed and OSOA would continue its stir.

It was Chidambaram who took a tough stance,saying that everyone in the country was unhappy with his salary and could resort to strike tomorrow. Since the issue was with the inter-ministerial group,it was decided to take help of the Army to manage supplies to pumps while keeping pressure on striking officers by arresting and dismissing them.

This fragmented the OSOA. With 67 executives of ONGC and IOC terminated and more lists being drawn,its other constituents withdrew. In less than a couple of hours of the Cabinet meeting,BPCL reported return of 70 per cent of its officers on duty and later 100 per cent compliance. This triggered others in OIL,GAIL India Ltd,Engineers India and finally IOC to do so.

Asked if the government would revoke the termination,Petroleum Secretary R S Pandey said: “It is for the companies to decide. We have no role in this.”

The OSOA went on strike as it was unhappy that the pay increase approved by the Cabinet was less than what the Second Pay Revision Committee had recommended. It stopped oil and gas output and disrupted fuel supplies. About 12,000 petrol pumps of IOC and 3,000 of BPCL were out of stock throughout the country,leading to long queues at 8,373 HPCL outlets of which 95 per cent were operating.

ONGC officers forced company’s oil production from fields off the Mumbai Coast fall by more than 50 per cent to 170,000 barrels per day. Besides 90 per cent of the gas from Mumbai High field was cut due to the stir.

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