UP: Over 1 Lakh Employees, Engineers Go on Strike, Minister Threatens NSA, ESMA
Lucknow: Over one lakh power employees and engineers from across Uttar Pradesh began a three-day strike on Thursday night, demanding regularisation of pay, widening the scope of cashless treatment facility, fulfillment of certain criteria of the chairman selection process, and regularisation of contract workers.
Due to the strike, most of the electricity department staff was unavailable for repairs and maintenance as well as for redressing public grievances amid power disruption. The employees on strike include engineers, junior engineers, technicians, operating staff, and clerical and contractual employees.
Around 50 employees have been detained so far from different cities including Prayagraj, Sambhal, and Maharajganj while the Mahoba district magistrate has terminated the services of 10 contractual and outsourced electricity employees who are on strike following the call of the UP Rajya Vidyut Karmchari Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti. The district administration has also given instructions to file a report against them and blacklist the concerned company.
"There has been a massive disruption in the entire state and there is no electricity in more than half of the districts after our protest began yesterday. Thermal plants with a capacity of 1,850 megawatts (MW) are lying closed while the one with 1,030 MW has been closed after the strike. This situation has come only because of the stubbornness of Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL) chairman Devraj who is not even ready to implement the agreement which was assured by the state power minister AK Sharma," said Shailendra Dubey, Sangharsh Samiti convenor, speaking to NewsClick, adding that 75 feeders were down in Purvanchal discom.
According to Dubey, many power employees were allegedly forced to work for 17 houses and dozens of them were held captive for hours to prevent them from joining the strike. "Two employees have been arrested after breaking into their house in Fatehpur by the police while one has been arrested in Maharajganj," alleged Dubey.
Electricity employees are on strike in the state after 23 years.
Meanwhile, to prevent power corporation engineers from performing their duties, Sharma, the minister, threatened to invoke the National Security Act (NSA) if any discom property was found damaged during the strike.
"Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) has been invoked across the state. If staff involved in the strike attempt any disruption in the operations of power services, they will be booked under ESMA and jailed for one year. Further, if discom property is damaged by protesters or they are found preventing other engineers from performing their duties, then NSA will be invoked," he told the media in a press conference.
The minister further said: "The state government is committed to providing full security to engineers who perform their duties. The UP Power Officers Association, Vidyut Mazdoor Panchayat Sangh, Electricity Contract Employees Federation, UP State Electricity Council Leader Employees Association, Promoted Power Engineers Welfare Association, Electrical Technical Employees United Association and other employee organisations have assured they will stay away from the strike," he claimed.
Reacting to this, Dubey said: "We are not criminals and not doing anything unconstitutional. Therefore, we are not afraid of NSA. We have been forced to go on strike due to the obstinacy of the top management of UPPCL. On December 3, 2022, energy minister AK Sharma had promised to fulfil the demands. There was a written agreement regarding this between us. However, both the corporation management and the minister are turning their backs. The state power minister and officials have failed to implement the agreement which was decided a few months back following face-to-face discussion."
The electricity employees’ united forum has also highlighted the demands of regularising the contractual workers engaged in perennial jobs of the electricity sector, reintroduction of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) and rolling back of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2022.
Notably, the state government and the employees had agreed on certain points on December 3 last year, but several of those changes were not implemented even after three months, Dubey asserted.
Pointing out the December 3 agreement, the convenor said, "The government agreed upon the change in the selection process of the chairman and the managing director of the power companies. As per the mutual consensus, it was decided that the chairman and the MD would be selected through a committee headed by the chief secretary. But even after three months of the decision, these posts are now being filled based on transfers. Apart from the selection of top officials, the government also agreed to the implementation of the Power Sector Employees Protection Act, stopping the outsourcing of operation and maintenance of power substations for transmission, equal honorarium for different corporations, and revision of allowances and removal of salary anomalies. Nothing has been implemented even after mutual agreement."
The National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees & Engineers (NCCOEEE) – the broad-based national-level conglomeration of affiliated and independent federations of electricity employees and engineers, extended solidarity to the united strike action against the privatisation move by the Yogi Adityanath-led UP government to sell out two new 800 MW generation units of Anpara and Opra and related transmission assets currently owned by UPPCL, the state-run UP Power Corporation.
Following the call by NCCOEEE, electricity employees and engineers poured onto the roads in support of their UP counterparts across the country – including in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Haryana and many other states.
“Instead of resolving the issues and demands of their own state power employees, the UP government has unleashed atrocious repressive measures on the striking workmen. Continuous intimidation, and invoking of ESMA with threats to book under NSA are the heinous weapons the UP government has resorted to. NCCOEEE urges the government to restrain from any kind of highhandedness with the striking electricity employee," the union said.
The union leader further said that despite a written agreement between Vidyut Karmachari Samyukt Sangharsh Samiti and UP Power Corporation in presence of minister Arvind Kumar Sharma, with an assurance of not to privatise the power assets, the UPPCL has "backtracked".
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