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Blackout cloud on festivities

- JSEB-unions spat on outsourcing heats up

Ranchi, Sept. 30: The spectre of blackouts hovers over the coming festive season as Jharkhand State Electricity Board (JSEB) is locked in an intense tussle with 10 of its trade unions over outsourcing power distribution and allied services in Ranchi and Jamshedpur.

Though JSEB chairman S.N. Verma stressed that officers and employees need not perceive any threat to their jobs under the new system, Power Engineers Service Association (PESA) — one of the 10 unions that are part of a joint co-ordination committee — refused to buy the idea.

General secretary of PESA Prashant Chaturvedi said, “In case the notification is issued a day before Durga Puja, as we expect it to be, we will have no option but to enforce a blanket blackout in the state, even during the festivities.”

The co-ordination committee of the power unions, he pointed out, had petitioned JSEB several months ago seeking an open discussion on outsourcing power distribution and services, including line maintenance and billing, to private parties.

“Till date, JSEB has refused to take us into confidence and has instead chosen covert methods to bring in private players to manage power distribution through the back door,” he alleged.

The unions are launching a mass awareness programme on October 3 to be followed by a meeting in front of the JSEB headquarters at Dhurwa on October 12. Once a formal notification for handing over the power distribution system to private players is issued, the unions have warned of a statewide blackout.

At the heart of the impasse is JSEB’s decision to hand over to private parties all activities related to distribution of power to existing or future consumers in franchise areas and maintenance of distribution assets in Ranchi and Jamshedpur.

While Calcutta-based CESC has been chosen as a franchisee for Ranchi, Tata Power will handle affairs in the steel city. Sources said a work order to hand over tasks to the two private parties was being finalised on a war footing.

The two franchisees will have to minimise technical & commercial losses, improve metering, billing and revenue collection, minimise bill arrears and enhance customer satisfaction levels by improving quality of service.

JSEB chairman S.N. Verma said the franchisees would be an extended arm of JSEB, making up for the acute manpower shortage (65 per cent). “This arrangement suits us perfectly as the franchisees will need to undertake maintenance of power distribution lines and transformers, undertake repairs and basically increase consumer satisfaction,” he told The Telegraph.

Verma clarified that there would be no reduction in manpower. “Our men will supervise all activities of the franchisees and hence they will be needed,” he explained.

Chaturvedi, however, rubbished the claim. “We can agree to the franchisee system only if all officers and employees are declared state government employees. We cannot allow the government or JSEB to play with their future.”

JSEB had not been unbundled and hence it was not authorised to hand over power distribution to private parties under the Indian Electricity Act, 1948. The Indian Electricity Act of 2003, which allows forming of separate companies to handle generation, distribution and transmission, comes into play only after the power utility is unbundled.

Jharkhand Electric Supply Technical Workers Union has vowed to back the co-ordination committee stir against privatisation. In a statement issued today after a daylong meeting, the union declared it had been agitating for regularisation of all contractual employees with JSEB and it would not allow entry of private players under any circumstances.


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