In 2006, Punjab’s Charanjeet Singh lost his father who was electrocuted while he was repairing a transmission line in the state’s Bathinda district. Following this, the familial responsibilities shifted onto him forcing him to drop his plans for higher studies and pick up odd jobs for his family’s survival.
“I was a young boy when I lost my father. I didn’t know what to do then. I dropped out of school and started taking care of family by earning through odd jobs. But now, the situation has worsened. We are on the verge of starving,” Charanjeet told NewsClick.
Unable to bear the condition of the families who have lost their kins to such accidents, he formed an committee and named it Mritik Ashrit Sangrash Committee, an organised group, to give a platform to the families of victims to raise their voice.
“The group was the need of the hour. It has been working for years now. It instils hope among the families that there is a place where they can share their grievances. And we all collectively raise our voice against the system for betraying us the way they have,” he added.
For past one week, families of electricity board employees who have lost their lives while on duty are on protest against the Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, demanding jobs. Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL), like other organisations, has a policy of providing jobs to the employees who died on duty.
Sukhwinder Singh, 30, lost his father in 2003 when he was barely 14 years old. With the measly pension his mother would receive, along with the odd jobs both son-mother did, they were able to sustain their family of five members. However, after the COVID-19 induced lockdown, Singh lost his job and has since survived a long year on savings. He says that he is in a dire need of a job.
“My pockets are empty. I have a family to take care of. I don’t have farms or any property. I lost my job during lockdown,” he added.
Three days ago, the family members including elderly members and women along with children of the deceased employees scaled atop a water tank to press for their demands. The families demanded that government should devise a policy to provide them with jobs. The families also reiterated that unemployment coupled with lockdown have left them empty handed and they are ready to give their lives if their demands are not met.
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Notably, the families whose members died at work between 2004- 2010 were not given jobs during Congress (2000-2007) and Akali Dal (2007-2017) governments. However, a committee was formed in December 2020 to look into the matter. The notification for the creation of a committee read, “The committee comprising of the following members to examined the PSPCL policy dated 23.11.2004 and 16.04.2010 in the light of the Punjab government policy date 21.11.2002 regarding providing job on compassionate grounds and examine the case of the applicants (Dependents of Deceased PSEB now PSPCL employees) who are demanding job on compassionate grounds instead of solatium.”
An official from Punjab State Corporation Limited (PSPCL) told NewsClick, “Their protest is uncalled for. They have been given full salary of their deceased parents and now they want jobs. At that time, the policy was only to give salaries as compensation and not job. We will come out with a statement on this soon.”
As it appears, the case is of policy flip flops that has led to this situation. However, the protestors have denied such claims. “They are lying. We were promised jobs but never given. Family members after 2010 are given job and compensation both. Why are they being partial towards us.”
The protest has also brought attention to the lives of linemen who risk their lives to keep the power supply continuous irrespective of time or weather conditions. However, as per the protesters, no safety gear including safety belts and plastic gloves has been provided to them. An official requesting anonymity said, “The work doesn’t end just by providing safety gears to linemen and those dealing with transmission line and power supply. They should be trained on how to use them so that lives are saved.”
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