Continuous protests against contractualisation in the electricity sector has reaped positive results as the orders have been withdrawn by Tamil Nadu’s Electricity Minister. The workers of the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) have, at least temporarily, halted the privatisation move of the government.
An outrage by the public and the political parties five months ahead of the Assembly elections has resulted in the withdrawal of the fee for garbage collection by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC). The government had to concede to the demands of the stakeholders amid severe backlash.
Meanwhile, the recent boiler accident and loss of lives at the thermal plant of NLC India Limited has led to safety audit of thermal stations across the country. NewsClick brings a roundup of the happenings across the state this week.
STATE-WIDE ELECTRICITY EMPLOYEES' PROTEST SUCCESSFUL
A successful state-wide protest was held by TANGEDCO employees on December 22 demanding withdrawal of the Corporation’s move to increase temporary workforce and outsourcing of human resources. Coimbatore witnessed a massive sit-in protest with over 500 employees gathering in front of the powerhouse at Sivananda Colony. Protesting workers at the TANGEDCO headquarters in Chennai blocked the car of the Chairman and Managing Director, Pankaj Kumar Bansal from entering the premises.
State Electricity Minister P Thangamani raced to the site of protest in Chennai and urged for talks with trade union representatives. But the protesting employees stated that immediate scrapping of the orders was the only solution and there was no place for negotiation. Eventually the minister promised to withdraw orders contractualising the maintenance of sub-division offices of the distribution wing and five substations.
S Rajendran, General Secretary of COTEE (Central Organisation of Tamil Nadu Electricity Employees) that is affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), questioned how the corporation could bypass the judiciary and fill gang man positions on contract when a case regarding the ambiguity of the position is pending with the Madras High Court. More than 27,000 vacancies are reportedly existing in the sections planned to be contractuialised by the corporation.
This state-wide protest comes at a time when the TANGEDCO employees have already been demanding regularisation of existing contractual positions. Only last month, a dharna was held against the alleged anti-worker and pro-privatisation measures of the management.
CHENNAI'S UNWELCOME GARBAGE FEE POSTPONED
Serving a sudden blow to residents and commercial establishments, the GCC had announced hefty fees for garbage collection on December 23. The public and leaders of various opposition parties slammed the decision of the government at a time when many families have lost their livelihoods due to the Covid pandemic.
Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, who conceded to the criticism, ordered against the decision to collect fee for waste management. Less than 48 hours after declaring the user fee, Greater Chennai Corporation announced a rollback.
The initial decision came with a detailed plan to collect fees along with property tax from January 1, 2020. The Corporation would generate Rs. 80 crores annually if the charges were levied. NewsClick reported that the civic body has privatised doorstep collection, and to compensate the private player, garbage fee collection was initiated.
TN PARTIES IN ELECTION MODE
The major political parties, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have gone into the election mode, which is five months away. The DMK, out of power since 2011 has been on an all-out attack on the AIADMK government. The party leaders met the governor and submitted a 97-page report on the alleged corruption by the ministers in the AIADMk government.
Meanwhile, the AIADMK government is trying to woo voters against the anti-incumbency factor and the internal squabbles. The government has announced a Pongal gift of Rs 2,500 to all public distribution system card holders, along with a pongal kit of ingredients. The government cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the increase from Rs 1,000 in the previous years. The opposition parties accused the government of increasing the gifts with elections in mind, which did not announce any considerable relief during the lockdown.
“The simmering discontent between Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) and his deputy O Panner Selvam (OPS) is evident as EPS has stolen the limelight after being announced as the chief Ministerial candidate for the 2021 assembly elections.
The much-awaited political plunge of the famed actor Rajinikanth has hit another roadblock, as he is admitted to hospital for health issues. The actor was shooting for his new film in Hyderabad where few crew members tested positive for COVID-19. The test results of the actor have turned negative, but he has been admitted to hospital for high blood pressure.
NEYVELI TRAGEDY TRIGGERS ALL-INDIA SAFETY AUDIT
Taking note of the boiler explosion at Neyveli Lignite Power Plant in Tamil Nadu that killed 13 people on July 1, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Centre to undertake safety audit of thermal power stations throughout the country. A period of six months is recommended for completion of audits, which is to ensure precaution against further accidents from leakage of hazardous gases.
The report submitted by a committee constituted by the NGT has identified the cause of the explosion at Neyveli as lack of appropriate training and requisite permits to the staff handling the process. This is a violation of safety norms under Section 38 of the Factories Act, 1948 the report stated. Read more
UPROAR AGAINST PROPOSAL TO SHRINK RESERVATION IN IITS
Recommendations by an eight-member committee comprising IIT directors restricting SC, ST and OBC reservation in IIT faculty positions created a stir last week. A number of political parties, students’ organisations and employees’ associations ridiculed its proposals also because the body was actually set up to suggest effective implementation of reservation, but it ironically went against its own mandate. This also came as a shocker because the number of faculty members from reserved categories are negligible in these institutions.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP from Madurai, S Venkatesan, demanded the Ministry of Education to release a white paper with regard to admission and recruitment in the IITs. The All India Federation of Other Backward Classes Employees’ Welfare Association (AIOBC) submitted a detailed memorandum appealing the rejection of the committee’s recommendations. Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam and many student groups have registered their protest against the recommendations in different ways. Read More
TN COVID SITUATION
The number of fresh COVID-19 infections in Tamil Nadu has come down and stayed below 1,500 for the past 45 consecutive days till December 25. The total number of cases reached 8,12,142 with 12,048 casualties. The number of fresh infections in the GCC has also recorded a sharp decline.
However, the impact of relaxing restrictions for political gatherings in the state is yet to be witnessed. Popular political leaders were disinterested in ensuring COVID-19 protocols in their public meetings and other events ahead of assembly polls. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami started his election campaign from Salem on December 19, where no effort to maintain physical distancing was ensured.
The government is also reluctant to expand its horizons in fighting the pandemic. No effort of contact tracing is carried out by the TN government to check the growing number of cases, unlike its neighbouring state Kerala where the rigorous efforts to trace positive cases continue to help control the spread. Significant data is also kept opaque by the TN government in its daily bulletins. Read More
TN FARMERS JOIN PROTEST AT SINGHU BORDER
Farmers from Tamil Nadu, under the banner of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), reached Delhi’s Singhu border on December 23. AIKS state committee member Arul said that they travelled all the way to the national capital to extend their solidarity to fellow farmers from Punjab and Haryana, and stressed that this movement is for the farmers of the entire country.
The ruling parties at the state and centre continue to call the farmers’ protest a ‘conspiracy’. Addressing a meeting organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party near Maraimalai Nagar on December 25, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar alleged that "some" farmers protesting against the recently enacted central laws were misguided by their "political masters”. Following Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami’s claim that the farm laws will protect farmers from loss, Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary K Balakrishnan stated that the CM was supporting the 'anti-people' policies of the Centre only to save his government and his post.