Power Privatisation Plans Pushed Jammu and Kashmir Into Energy Crisis

by Tahir Bhat

SRINAGAR: Most of Jammu and Kashmir including parts of the two major cities of Srinagar and Jammu are literally in darkness as more than 20,000 employees of managing power distribution, a key service, are on strike. The crisis has doubled up as most of Kashmir and parts of Jammu are facing sub-zero temperatures owing to the start of winter.

The power outages came at a time when the Covid19’s deadlier omicron variant is hovering around. The outages have led to the lack of water supply in various areas in Kashmir and Jammu where the families failed in pumping water to the home storages for use. This actually led to protests in a certain area in Jammu.

The employees went on indefinite strike around midnight on Friday against the privatisation and various other issues they said the authorities are not addressing. Though the civil administration in Jammu and Srinagar has had meetings with the striking employees, there has not been any breakthrough. In Jammu, civil administration has sought the help of the armed forces in restoring power supplies.

The strike followed the failure in two rounds of talks between the power distribution employees and the government. The strike started with pen-down and an allegedly lackadaisical response from the government pushed it to tool-down strike. The employees refused to repairs the distribution set up and stopped working totally. The only exception continues to be the hospitals.

What makes this strike interestingly different is that it involves, almost everybody in the erstwhile PDD – from meter readers to senior engineers. Primarily, the striking employees are seeking a quick halt in the proposed privatisation of the entire transmission and distribution power edifice.

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“It is the tripping point of a long process that was reduced to a monologue,” one senior engineer told Kashmir Life. “The first issue that triggered this crisis is the point blank refusal to deny wages to a few thousand daily wagers who have been working like all others, especially in Jammu.” On the issue of their regularisation, the engineer said the government would advertise the positions and not consider these guys working for years now.

“The major issue is the privatisation through a tendering process in which the transmission and the distribution set up will be given to private players,” the engineers said. “The government has not decided about the employees whose service, the government is intending, to transfer to the new private players.”

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The engineer said that the government is planning to have smart metering set up and the areas will eventually be distributed within the private players. The for-profit operation, they believe will shoot up the tariffs eventually.

The process of taking away the distribution process of the power from the government was part of the unbundling process. In the first stage, two distribution companies were created from Kashmir and Jammu and in the second stage, privatisation was initiated. Prior to that Jammu and Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation Ltd was set up. Both the transmission and distribution companies are wholly owned by Jammu and Kashmir government.

Now the political class has jumped into the ring by supporting the striking employees. They have questioned the decision-making by an administration that lacks a mandate of the people.

The stalemate continues as the authorities are trying to get the striking employees to restore the routine.

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