The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Punjab to plug into power reforms

Chandigarh, March 16: After administering a heavy dose of populism to its huge farming community for over five years under the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government, Amarinder Singh’s current Congress regime in Punjab is getting ready to implement power reforms and prune the employee list of the Punjab State Electricity Board.

The board’s expenses on employees work out to 19 per cent of its total revenue, which is the highest in the country. The workforce of nearly 92,000 is also the highest in the country in terms of employees per 1,000 consumers — 16.9 employees to 1,000 consumers.

Amarinder has promised that no employee would be retrenched and his government would introduce a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS).

The employees, however, have termed the assurance as “not convincing and similar to the ones made before withdrawing free power to the agriculture sector”.

The decision comes close on the heels of thousands of agitating farmers taking to the streets here for restoration of free power.

Six major farmers’ bodies in Punjab, led by the Bharatiya Kisan Union, have laid siege to major traffic junctions here for an indefinite period. Hundreds of farmers have organised a sit-in at Patiala, the headquarters of the board, demanding that the power bills sent to them be waived.

They are being supported by a section of the board employees who are gearing up for a protracted agitation against the proposed moves by the government to privatise generation and distribution of power.

The farmers and the agitating employees have threatened to lay siege to the Assembly where the budget session got under way last week with Governor J.F.R. Jacob iterating the government’s resolve to go ahead with the reforms.

Undeterred by the pressure being mounted by the farmers’ lobby and board employees against the reforms, Amarinder warned that free power and failure to make a drastic overhaul of the “white elephant” power board “would hamper the progress of the state”.

In February last year, the Congress had vowed to continue providing free power. But the facility was withdrawn in July on the ground that funds were needed to tide over financial difficulties and the concession would be restored once the situation improved. But the government later formed the Haldea Commission to prepare a roadmap for reforms.

The panel has recommended gradual phasing out of cross-subsidies, restructuring of the board with an additional investment of Rs 16,000 crore and its corporatisation.

The commission has also noted the huge number of employees in the board, which is weighed down by losses of over Rs 2,600 crore.

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