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Puducherry Electricity Dept Employees on Indefinite Strike Against Centre's Privatisation Decision

The engineers and employees of the PED have started an indefinite strike from February 1 against the privatisation decision of the Union government, terming it as scandalous and unlawful.
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Engineers and employees of the PED during a protest as part of the strike against privatisation in Puducherry.

The engineers and employees of the Puducherry Electricity Department (PED) are on an indefinite strike from February 1 against the privatisation of electricity distribution by the Union government. Around 2,500 workers of the PED in the four regions of the Puducherry union territory (UT) have joined the strike.

The Electricity Engineers and Employees Privatisation Protest Committee (EEEPPC), an umbrella organisation of engineers and employees in the PED, has accused the Union government of compelling the government of Puducherry to privatise the electricity distribution. But, during the talks held on February 1, the electricity minister has reportedly refused to give in writing about the government's stand on the privatisation of PED.

Despite making profit continuously with the lowest line loss across the country, the move of the Union government to privatise the PED has shocked the employees. The loss of Rs 12 crore in the last year has been attributed to the pending due of about Rs 750 crores, of which almost Rs 500 crore is pending from different government departments.

'STRIKE WILL CONTINUE'

The workers and the engineers resorted to the strike from February 1 against the privatisation move of the Union government. The department caters to 3.5 lakh consumers in the UT- 56,000 commercial consumers, 35,000 BPL consumers with onelight service, 7,000 agricultural consumers, 6,000 industrial customers and 530 high tension line customers.

"The only demand of the Electricity Engineers and Privatisation Protest Committee is the withdrawal of the privatisation move," said G Ramasamy, the advisor to the committee.

"The move will not only affect the employees but will have an adverse impact on the consumers of this very important service sector which provides affordable electricity to the people including the farmers. Privatisation will also affect the educated youth of the UT awaiting employment," he said.

NCCOEEE

Demonstration in Telangana by NCCOEEE against privatisation of electricity distribution in Puducherry and Chandigarh)

The strike was announced after the Union government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), pushed for privatisation of the PED and appointed Deloitte as the transition advisor for transition into a private company.

The BJP government, during the first wave of the pandemic, announced the privatisation of the electricity departments in the eight UTs during the first wave of the pandemic in May 2020.

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Protest in Mahe region (located in Kerala) against the privatisation of PED

The Union ministry of power had advised the government of Puducherry to corporatise the electricity distribution and all retail supply functions carried out by the PED, and the Union ministry of home affairs had directed the UT government in November 2020 to prepare a road map for unbundling and privatisation of the PED.

The Union power minister in May 2020 invited competitors to take over the distribution network of the electricity boards in the UTs.

"Since the power generation and distribution are service sectors, the consumers are getting electricity at subsidised rates. The move of the Union government to corporate and subsequently privatise the boards will affect the consumers, particularly the farmers and the people below the poverty line," Ramasamy said.

The move to privatise will end the subsidised rate to the public, farmers and those below the poverty line.

"There is cross-subsidy for the public while the commercial and high tension consumers are charged higher costs. The PED was making profits until recently, and the loss calculated as per the recent audit does not consider the Rs 750 crores payment pending. Such calculations are malicious and are aimed at pushing for privatisation," Ramasamy said.

In a strongly worded letter to the lieutenant governor of the UT, the National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees & Engineers (NCCOEEE) accused the administration of adopting unlawful and illogical steps towards privatisation of efficiently managed revenue potential power utility of Puducherry.

'INTERFERENCE IN STATE/UT RIGHTS'

As far as the duties of the Union, state and UTs are concerned, as per the Electricity Act 2003, the distribution is the responsibility of the states and UTs. A statement of the EEEPPC claimed that the Union government's interference into the business of the UT government and compelling the UT administration in privatisation matter is illegal and illogical from the commercial point of view.

The NCCOEEE also termed the move as unlawful and scandalous. The memorandum also referred to the NITI Aayog document published in August 2021, titled "Turning Around the power distribution sector, learning and best practices of Reforms."

"In the document, the NITI Ayog has noted that Globally, 70% of distribution utilities are publicly owned. The remaining 30% of the privately-owned companies are located in middle and high-income countries. India is neither a high nor middle-income country. It is a country of the low-income population," the statement reads.

"The failure of privatised electricity distribution in different parts of the country is evident, and the common public is the most affected during natural calamities. But the Union government still wants to privatise the efficient PED," Ramasamy said.

The chief minister of Puducherry has invited the striking workers for talks on February 2 but may not be prepared to openly disclose the government stand against privatisation move since the NR Congress is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP.

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