Ranchi, Dec. 6: A strike by over 75,000 state power board employees created havoc in Jharkhand today, plunging more than half the state into darkness and forcing the government to send an SOS to the Union power ministry for technical assistance.
The state government, which declared the strike illegal yesterday after invoking the provisions of Section 3 of Bihar Essential Services Maintenance Act 1947 (ESMA), came close to terminating the services of two senior leaders of the coordination committee that is spearheading the statewide protest against the appointment of two private franchises in Ranchi and Jamshedpur.
But, according to sources, the move was stalled late tonight, as Jharkhand High Court had taken up the issue suo motu and scheduled a hearing tomorrow.
Chief secretary S.K. Choudhary revealed the government wanted to wait for at least a day before taking “any extreme step”.
And while the government waited for deputy commissioners and superintendents of police of various districts to file ground reports, the situation spiralled out of control.
Jharkhand State Electricity Board (JSEB) workers did not report for duty, leaving power stations unmanned. Some even resorted to sabotage to disrupt supply.
From Ranchi to Gumla, Lohardaga, Garhwa, Koderma, Latehar and Palamau, it was darkness all the way. The coal belt and parts of Jamshedpur were also badly hit.
Energy secretary Vimal Kirti Singh was left with no option, but to approach his central counterpart P. Umashankar.
“We have asked the Union power secretary to provide assistance. He has directed officials of NTPC, DVC, PGCIL and other organisations to help us with technical assistance, which we are getting. But acts of sabotage by striking employees who are disturbing distribution of power is like blackmailing the state,” Singh told The Telegraph.
JSEB chief S.N. Verma said no effort was being spared to restore power supply. “We have requested Usha Martin, Tata Power, Eastern Coalfields, Bharat Coking Coal Ltd and others to loan us electrical engineers so that supply lines can be restored at the earliest,” he said.
The numbers told the tale. According to the Eastern Load Despatch Centre, the total peak hour demand, which normally ranges between 850MW and 900MW, had to be restricted to 440MW as power workers snapped supply lines in 14 out of the 24 districts that are within JSEB’s command areas.
In Ranchi, power supply was suspended a little after midnight. Although supply was later resumed from the Raj Bhavan substation, most parts of Ranchi were left without power throughout the day.
This led to acute shortage of drinking water supply as pumping stations were unable to operate.
A scroll on the state government’s official website read: “Due to acute power crisis, state data centre services are not available from 5.30pm till tomorrow 10.30am. Inconvenience is regretted”.
At Lohardaga, residents complained that they had been going without power and drinking water supply for the past 22 hours. At Koderma, where power was snapped around 3pm yesterday, residents organised an impromptu demonstration outside the substation to protest against the continuous blackouts.
Garhwa went without power since 8am today. Palamau’s experience was similar. A Latehar resident said they were without power since midnight.
In the afternoon, the JSEB chairman launched another last-ditch effort. He invited leaders of the coordination committee, representing nine JSEB workers’ unions, for talks. However, Prashant Chaturvedi, convener of the committee, declined the offer.
“We are ready for talks. But only in the presence of a state government representative like the chief secretary or the energy secretary. We further demand a complete inquiry into the agreement which was rushed through with the two private parties. Our indefinite strike will continue,” Chaturvedi told The Telegraph later.