Ranchi, Dec. 5: Jharkhand today took the first step to streamline power distribution by signing agreements with two private companies, but workers belonging to the state electricity board, long opposed to the move, threatened an indefinite strike that is likely to disrupt supplies throughout the state in the days to come.
The agreements were signed with Calcutta Electric Supply Company (CESC) and Tata Power in the presence of chief minister Arjun Munda, state energy secretary Vimal Kirti Singh and JSEB chairman S.N. Verma at Project Building, the state secretariat.
While CESC will take over power distribution in Ranchi, Tata Power has been chosen for Jamshedpur. Within the next three months, the two franchisees will take over distribution of power to existing and future consumers with the primary objective of minimising T&D (transmission and distribution) losses.
The two companies will also handle other services like meter reading, billing, collection and also maintain overhead transmission lines to ensure better consumer satisfaction.
But it will take another three months for the agreements to take shape and consumers to feel the difference. According to Verma, several allied activities, including energy audit, measurement of transmission and distribution losses, metering, recording of assets etc, would have to be completed first.
No one expects the transition to be smooth. A preview of what was perhaps in store for the state in the next few days was on show soon after the agreements were signed around 11am. At the JSEB headquarters, union members disconnected power lines plunging the entire office into darkness, forcing chairman Verma to spend around two hours without lights.
Groups of workers laid siege to the Hatia grid and other sub-stations, forcing blackouts in several parts of the state capital. Supply was resumed only after the JSEB sought the help of the police.
Ranchi senior superintendent of police and Ranchi city SP sent policemen to the Hatia and Namkum grid stations as a precautionary measure. Policemen will remain there to ensure no further disruptions.
Later, chief minister Arjun Munda explained that all-out efforts were being made to improve power supply and to achieve the target of “zero power cuts” in the state by deploying expert agencies.
The process of unbundling JSEB, the main component of prescribed power reforms, that is expected to improve overall efficiency in the spheres of generation and distribution, would also be taken up very soon, he added.
Energy secretary Singh sought to ally the fears of unions by explaining that the mere handing over of power distribution systems did not signify an attempt at “privatisation” of the state power utility.
“Losses will be trimmed, power thefts reduced and revenue collections will go up,” he said and clarified that contrary to rumours, there would not be any hike in power tariffs as the task of fixing power rates rested with Jharkhand State Electricity Regulatory Commission.
“This is a historic day,” JSEB chief Verma said at Project Building soon after signing the agreements around 11am. But, as word spread to the JSEB headquarters about 500 metres away, around 60 power union members launched an impromptu march towards the secretariat.
Later, Prashant Chaturvedi, the convener of the coordination committee of power unions, held a meeting of office-bearers and announced an indefinite strike to protest against the state government’s move to appoint private franchisees for power distribution.
“We have decided to strike work with immediate effect. Our strike will go on till the two agreements are rescinded,” Chaturvedi, who heads the committee that represents nine state power unions, told The Telegraph.
He claimed JSEB had gone back on its promise. On November 4, he alleged, JSEB chairman had signed a written agreement with the coordination committee, promising that all documents relating to the outsourcing deal would be first handed over to the union for their scrutiny.
The JSEB chief also agreed to amend or review any clause that went against the interests of power workers.
“Some documents were handed over to us yesterday evening. Even as we were studying them, JSEB announced they would sign deals with CESC and Tata Power. This is against the November 4 agreement. Accordingly, we have been left with no choice but to strike back,” he said.
Much later in the evening, Verma said that supply was restored throughout JSEB command areas. All general managers had also been instructed to ensure that there was no further disruption.
But, general secretary of the coordination committee P.K. Jaiswal said they had passed on instructions to all power stations units in the state to cease work.
“We regret the inconvenience caused. Our strike is to protect the interests of the state against privatisation of JSEB,” he said.
The agreements were signed by JSEB chief engineer S. C. Misra. Tata Power was represented by GM K. Ravindra, Senior GM Vivek Singla, while MD Dilip Sen and executive director Rajshri Bannerjee represented CESC.