The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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ASEB staff call Dispur bluff
- Strike threat over reforms strategy

Guwahati, Dec. 3: Employees of the Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB) today denied giving the Tarun Gogoi government the green signal to break the power utility into five separate entities and threatened to go on an indefinite strike if it 'arbitrarily' pushed ahead the reforms plan.

Minister of state for power Pradyut Bordoloi had told the media yesterday that as many as 22 employees' unions were convinced about the necessity of reforms.

The Assam branch of the National Co-Ordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers, however, said there was no question of agreeing to a restructuring plan that envisages breaking up the ASEB.

'Our meeting with the minister remained inconclusive because we were not convinced by the government's arguments in favour of unbundling the board,' said Dipak Kumar Saha, the joint convener of the co-ordination committee. He said the committee would meet tomorrow to finalise its agitation programme, which could include an indefinite power employees' strike.

Bordoloi was unavailable for comment.

Another joint convener of the co-ordination committee, Durgeswar Baruah, said the unions had made it clear to the minister during the meeting that they would not budge from their three-point charter of demands.

The unions fear that the ASEB will lose the status of a public sector unit if it is unbundled. 'The government is trying to dismantle the board only to grab loans from the Asian Development Bank,' Saha said.

The steps suggested by the co-ordination committee to revitalise the power sector include recommissioning the Bongaigaon Thermal Power Station and upgrading the Chandrapur, Lakwa and Namrup thermal power stations. It has also stressed the need to expedite the Karbi Langpi hydel project.

'The ASEB's fiscal position will not improve unless we increase our power-generation capacity,' Saha said. He demanded a comprehensive plan to safeguard the interests of employees.

Members of the employees' unions observed a 'pen-down-tools-down' strike from 11 am to 2 pm. Saha said the strike was 'successful'.

Dispur signed a memorandum of understanding with Delhi in 2001, committing itself to reforms in the power sector. The Gogoi government subsequently pushed through the Assam Electricity Bill, 2003, in the Assembly but failed to convince the employees' unions about the necessity of the move.

On apprehensions about the possibility of the reforms being seen as 'anti-employee' steps, Bordoloi had said: 'The government is committed to safeguarding their interests.'

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