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Court ensures unions back off

Ranchi, Dec. 7: Faced with a court ultimatum, power unions called off their strike today, bringing to an end 36 hours of agony in 14 of 24 districts of Jharkhand, but vowed to contest the board’s decision to appoint two private firms for electricity distribution in Ranchi and Jamshedpur.

Jharkhand State Electricity Board (JSEB), which borrowed engineers from PSUs and several other state-based private companies to gradually restore power through the state, heaved a sigh of relief when the coordination committee of unions announced its decision to end the agitation.

JSEB also decided not to punish some of its senior employees for having resorted to the strike which it labelled as “illegal”, calling it a “goodwill gesture”.

This morning, Jharkhand High Court was critical of the state government for its inept handling of the crisis. A division bench of Chief Justice Prakash Tatia and Justice Jaya Roy, that was hearing a PIL against the strike initiated by the court suo motu, commented that the state always rose from “its slumber when it is too late”.

It also made it clear that if union members failed to keep their commitment of withdrawing the strike in 10 minutes, it would initiate contempt of court proceedings.

The bench, which issued notices to the chief secretary and JSEB chairman, observed that energy wasn’t created by one person and no one could put a bar on its supply and distribution.

“The public has been put to difficulty and very soon they will hit the roads and retaliate against the board employees. It will be difficult for the JSEB employees to hide even in the Indian Ocean if the public comes looking for them,” the bench said.

The court will review the scenario on December 19.

After that the power unions had no choice but to give in. “We have called off our indefinite strike with immediate effect in deference to the wishes of Jharkhand High Court and in public interest,” Prashant Chaturvedi, convener of the committee representing nine power unions, told The Telegraph.

He also assured the people of the state that JSEB engineers would return to work immediately. “We are rushing alerts to all our units in the districts, directing them to restore power supply within the next half hour,” he said.

But, for CESC and Tata Power, the two companies signed up by JSEB to take up jobs of distribution as well as consumer services like billing in Ranchi and Jamshedpur respectively, the journey looks to be a chequered one.

For, the power unions were unlikely to give up soon. Chaturvedi said they would move court to seek a thorough probe into the outsourcing agreements inked by JSEB.

The agreements, he alleged, would lead to losses amounting to hundreds of crores of rupees for cash strapped JSEB. “As per the agreement, JSEB will supply power to CESC and Tata Power at Rs 1.78 per unit. Since JSEB buys power at Rs 3.28 per unit, it will incur a loss of Rs 1.50 for every unit supplied to the two companies. This is a loss-making venture,” Chaturvedi alleged.

Verma explained that JSEB had decided against initiating disciplinary action against some its employees.

But, the agreements signed with Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation and Tata Power would in no way be rescinded.

Last night, the board had decided to terminate the services of two union leaders, cancel contracts of 10 workers and suspend seven officers and seven other non-gazetted employees for inciting employees to disrupt power supply.

Today, talking to newsmen at the JSEB headquarters at Dhurwa, Verma appealed to the unions to resolve the issue grievances across the table.

“JSEB has been incurring losses to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore every month as it was buying power from various sources at higher rates and selling it to consumers at lower rates. Dues to DVC alone touched Rs 1,700 crore. JSEB is left with no option but to raise revenues through outsourcing of power distribution jobs,” he explained.


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