Chandigarh Powermen Strike: As UT Faces Outage, Union Leader Claims Admin Agreed to Put Discom Privatisation ‘On Hold’
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Times of India
A day after the Chandigarh administration invoked a 1968 law to prohibit the ongoing work strike of the employees in its electricity department, a union leader, privy to the development, claimed that the former assured the protesting body that the privatisation of power distribution and transmission in the Union Territory “will be put on hold till the resolution of the matter in the court.”
Hundreds of powermen, led by the UT Powermen Union – Chandigarh unit, have been on a three-day strike from Monday this week in a bid to register their protest against the granting of approval for privatisation of Chandigarh Discom (Distribution Company) by the Union Cabinet.
On Tuesday, as the majority of the Chandigarh city plunged into darkness and lakhs of the city residents were reportedly left to fend for themselves without power and water, the UT administration in the evening invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act thereby banning strikes by the electricity department for six months.
“In exercise of powers conferred by Sub-section 3 of the East Punjab Essential Services (Maintenance) Act, 1968, the Administrator, UT Chandigarh hereby prohibits strikes in the employment of Engineering Department (Electricity Wing), UT, Chandigarh by any of their employees for a period of six months with immediate effect,” India Today quoted the order copy.
The development has come after negotiations between the Chandigarh administration, and the protesting union failed in a meeting held Tuesday evening, NewsClick has learnt.
However, in another round of talks held in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Chandigarh administration partially agreed to the demands of the striking powermen, Prasanta N Chowdhary, convenor, National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees & Engineers (NCCOEEE), a national umbrella body of powermen unions, told NewsClick in a telephone interview on Wednesday morning.
“The administration agreed to put on hold [the privatisation proposal] till the resolution of the matter in the court. The striking union took a note of it and directed the [electricity] employees to begin work to restore power in the city by 3 am on Wednesday itself," Chowdhary claimed, while being on the way to Chandigarh.
A petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court was filed by the UT Powermen Union, demanding the former to direct the Chandigarh administration to not go ahead with the privatisation of its discom. Even as the matter stands unresolved, the Union Cabinet, on January 7 this year, approved the highest bid submitted by one Kolkata-based Eminent Electricity Distribution Limited (EEDL) for converting the Chandigarh Discom into a private firm.
The agitating employees had feared that the latest move, taken as part of Central government's Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan under which the power distribution and retail supply in seven UTs were set to be handed over to private hands, would portend a change in their service conditions along with higher power tariffs for the UT’s residents.
Consequently, the striking powermen are demanding that the proposal to privatise the Chandigarh discom must be withdrawn, for which they had earlier also threatened to go on an indefinite work strike – along similar lines as witnessed in Jammu & Kashmir last year, and more recently in Puducherry.
To be sure, Chowdhary on Wednesday added that the “strike hasn’t been called off as yet.” “The union will be demanding a written assurance from the administration. In case that doesn't happen, the employees can go on an indefinite strike," he claimed.
He added that no arrests under ESMA have been made as yet, as per the information available with him till Wednesday morning. The 1968 Act empowers States to take action against the employees engaged in essential services when they refuse to work or go on strike.
On Tuesday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court also took suo moto notice of the “electricity crisis” in the UT and asked the union territory chief engineer to appear before it on Wednesday, news agency PTI reported.
Meanwhile, CITU on Tuesday congratulated the striking electricity employees for the “overwhelming response” to the strike call. The Central Trade Union also condemned the imposition of ESMA.
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