Power Returns to J&K: PDD Staff Call Off Strike as Govt Accepts Demands
The employees have called off the strike on Tuesday morning after the J&K govt assured to fulfill their demands.
Before Chillai Kalan, the 40-day period of harsh winter, could hit Kashmir, the whole of Jammu and Kashmir was plunged into darkness after more than 20,000 employees of the Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Department (JKPDD) began a strike against the proposed privatisation of the department.
The PDD employees started the strike on Friday, 17 December, against the J&K administration's decision to privatise the department and merge it with the Power Grid Corporation of India.
However, on Tuesday, 21 December morning, electricity was restored in the region after the employees called off their strike following the assurance of the government that they would put on hold the privatisation proposal.
Convenor Power Employees and Engineers Coordination Committee Jammu, Sachin Tickoo told The Quint that the government has accepted the four point demands of the employees following which the electricity was restored in the region.
'Pen and Tool Down' Strike
The employees began a 'pen and tool down' strike on Friday, implying that no repair work of transmission feeders or grid stations will be conducted by them.
The strike caused power outages, breaking down of lines in most parts of Jammu as well as Kashmir, forcing most of the J&K districts to reel under darkness.
On Sunday, in an unprecedented development, the Jammu administration wrote to the Defence Ministry and sought the army's assistance to restore power in the Jammu division.
The Army was deployed across critical electricity stations and water supply sources of Jammu after the divisional administration made a requisition for it to restore essential services.
They quickly swung into action and restored power for the essential services in Jammu, while most of the areas in Kashmir continued to remain in darkness.
On the other hand, the repeated round of talks between the government and agitating employees did not yield any result for three consecutive days. The protesting staff showed a tough stand and decided to lock horns with the government.
The employees, ranging from daily wage linemen to senior engineers observed indefinite strike, staging demonstrations in the twin capital cities of the Union territory, for the third day on Monday.
What Were the Demands of Protesting Employees?
Speaking to The Quint, the protesting employees said they demanded reversal of government decision to privatise assets, regularisation of daily wage employees, and the release of pending salaries. They were also against the merger of the J&K Power Development Department (JKPDD) into the Power Grid Corporation of India.
Munshi Majid Ali, convenor of power employees and engineers coordination committee Kashmir told The Quint that they had presented a four-point formula to the J&K administration.
“We were not against the government's privatisation move directly but it should guarantee our service benefits. We have been asking govt to issue a white paper on non-fulfilment of the recommendations of the unbundling report and the failure to create the positions as mandated by the committee at gazetted and non-gazetted levels, regularisation of permanent daily wagers, temporary daily wagers, departmental promotion committee of non-gazetted staff, and regularisation of all PDD engineers,” demanded Ali, who is working as an assistant engineer.
The protesting employees are also demanding delinking their salary from grant-in-aid to routine budget through treasuries including shelving a proposed joint venture between the J&K Power Transmission Corporation Limited (JKPTCL) and the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL).
The power breakdown and outages took place at a time when Kashmir Valley is under the grip of intense cold.
Srinagar recorded minus -5.8°C on Monday while Jammu city recorded 3.2°C. The Meteorological Centre Srinagar has also predicted a further drop in minimum temperature and also snowfall, this week.
Deploying the Army a 'Bad Move'
A power inspector based in south Kashmir termed the deployment of the army to restore power supply a “bad move” from the government.
The employee on the condition of anonymity said, "To the maximum, army personnel can turn on the power in the grid stations but in case of any mishap in transmission lines who will take the responsibility of the lives and property?” the 43-year-old field staff employee told The Quint.
Another PDD lineman Bashir Ahmad of Pulwama district told The Quint that unlike PDD field staff, the Army is not well versed with running power on existing dangling wires and fragile poles mostly found in rural areas of Kashmir.
“In different states of the country the Army has been active in disaster response, the emergencies and crisis but the power problem in J&K is something which the Army cannot handle,” feels another employee holding a protest demonstration in Srinagar.
He added that the deployment of army personnel in restoring power could also aggravate security concerns in conflict torn places like Kashmir.
What Did the J&K Govt Say?
For three straight days, the strike of employees had badly impacted common consumers including students, COVID-19 and asthma patients relying on oxygen support at their homes. The lack of power supply had also impacted internet services in the region.
However, Ali reiterated that the employees had kept the power supply on for the hospitals and emergency services.
On Monday evening, after assurance from the government to put on hold the proposal to go for the joint venture of JKPTCL and PGCIL, the employees called off the strike.
The government also assured that the interests of employees shall be protected and their service benefits will be implemented in letter and spirit.
“Regularisation of engineers as per the previous govt order shall be honoured and completed in time bound manner, DPC of Tech-Ill cadre shall be addressed on priority in a time bound manner and the issue of regularisation of PDL/TDL would be addressed in a time bound manner as per recruitment rules. The salary of the employees would be disbursed timely and delays would be eliminated,” reads the government’s proposed response document signed by Divisional Commissioner Jammu Dr Raghav Langer.
Politicians Express Concerns Against Privatisation Attempt
Both separatists as well as mainstream political parties have strongly reacted against the situation that led to a blackout in the Valley.
Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti on Monday castigated the government for deploying the Army to operate power stations in Jammu. The former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir alleged the plan for privatisation in the power sector was part of a larger “loot” of the Union territory’s natural resources.
Taking to Twitter she wrote: “GOI has made its criminal agenda behind scrapping J&Ks special status clear. Motive behind state sponsored loot of our natural resources – illegal auction of sand mining to outsiders, conversion of agricultural land to privatising power transmission is to plunge J&K into chaos.”
"Bringing the Army into such matters has further exposed their fake good governance narrative and ensure that people here live in perpetual fear of the jackboot. Such harebrained tactics and policies will only deepen the sense of alienation and suffocation that people of J&K feel."Mehbooba Mufti wrote in another tweet
National Conference vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah asked the government to leave privatisation decisions to an elected government.
“The J&K administration may be able to claim the constitutional authority to privatise the assets of J&K, but it completely lacks the political authority. Decisions of this nature with far-reaching consequences should be left to an elected government,” he wrote on Twitter.
All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a separatist amalgam also expressed deep concern at the J&K govt’s decision to privatise assets of the Power Development Department and merge it with the Power Grid Corporation of India.
“At no other place in India has such a merger taken place as the authorities are doing here. In this manner it becomes obvious that the policy of seizure of natural resources of J&K by the government of India continues, leading to anxiety and unease among people and fear for loss of their resources,” said APHC in a statement.
APHC while supporting the protesting employees said: “It is unfortunate that J&K which is rich in water and other natural resources has not been able to solve the problem of electricity even after seven decades and the consequences are borne by the Kashmiris in winters and the people of Chenab and Jammu in summers.”
J&K's Power Woes Not New
Every year, as winter sets in, the demand for electricity increases but supply remains erratic.
According to PDD officials the transmission lines and system installed in Kashmir can only supply a total capacity of 1,100 megawatts whereas the demand during winter increases to 1,900 megawatts.
Kashmir gets the power generated from its hydel plants, but during winter the rivers dry up and electricity generation takes a hit. In this situation, Kashmir gets power from the northern grid to meet the requirements.
However, the 2015 J&K economic survey report revealed that electricity generated by the J&K’s power projects is meagre and the power granted to the region from Centrally owned projects also accounts very little.
The official figures reveal that there are 10 lakh PDD consumers in Kashmir. The valley witnesses a 10-12 percent increase in electricity demand annually.
Every year in October the PDD brings a power curtailment schedule for both metered as well as non-metered areas of the valley. But the residents face unscheduled power cuts for six to seven hours every day in the winter, bringing hardships to the people.
The situation in the rural areas is far worse and most of the villages and townships don't get electricity for days together.
The Industrial Growth Centre (IGC) Lassipora of Pulwama district, the biggest industrial estate in the valley is also battling with power crisis, causing numerous losses to industrialists.
(Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets @irfanaminmalik.)
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