Patna: A day after the Bihar government invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) and declared the proposed token strike on February 11 by employees of Bihar Electricity Department illegal, employees, including engineers and workers, announced a 24-hour strike against privatisation on Friday.
Ignoring the invoking of ESMA and a threat by Partay Amrit, Principal Secretary of the State Energy Department, to take action against employees going on strike, eight associations said they would go on strike under the banner of Vidhut Kamgar Padhadhikari Abhiyanta Sanyukt Sangharsh Morcha, a joint platform of electricity employees in the state.
Amrit has clarified that there was no proposal for privatisation and the employees’ call for a strike was based on rumours. Those who go on strike would have to face action, including dismissal from service, he said, adding that even Union Power Minister, R.K. Singh, had made it clear that there was no plan for privatisation of the power sector in Bihar.
Surendar Kumar, General Secretary of the Power Engineering Service Association (PESA), told NewsClick that employees would not withdraw their strike against privatisation. “We will go on with the strike. We are not afraid of the government’s decision to invoke ESMA and threaten action against us,” he says.
According to him, the government had invoked ESMA in the past too; for 39 days in 1979,18 days in 1984 and for 11 days in 1998.
“If it is true that the government, as it has repeatedly assured, does not intend to privatise, they should issue a notification about it,” he added.
What has angered employees is that power companies have questioned the validity of PESA and said that it was not a recognised organisation.
Since last month, employees have been agitating, expressing their apprehensions about privatisation.
On January 27, more than a dozen employees protesting against privatisation were injured in Patna after they clashed with police who resorted to water cannons and baton charges to disperse the demonstrators.
Hundreds of employees participated in the protests, including engineers and workers. The protesting employees raised slogans against the state government and also threatened to go on strike if they did not issue a notification accepting their demands.
Last September, employees had urged the National Democratic Alliance government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to not make a hasty decision by privatising power supply. “The government has been trying to privatise power supply in the name of maintenance policy and franchise. We will oppose it from our offices to the streets,” PESA said.
It said any bid to privatise power supply will not be allowed as it is anti-people and will give a free hand to private companies to exploit people in the name of providing power.
The employees associations are of the view that privatisation of power supply will also hit the common people. One of the leaders said: “Millions of rupees have already been looted through the power supply franchise in Gaya, Bhagalpur and Muzafffarpur districts. There are clear cut financial irregularities reported by franchise companies.”
Another employee said that the management of electricity companies had been ignoring the demands for a high-level probe into the financial irregularities by franchise companies. The state government has already privatised power distribution and maintenance in the state.