The Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to hand over the Union Territory’s power assets to a central government undertaking, seen as a ruse for privatisation, has triggered a strike by nearly 20,000 employees and plunged swathes of the region into darkness amid freezing cold.
Lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha’s government has decided to enter into a joint venture with the Power Grid Corporation of India, turning the central entity into a 50 per cent shareholder in Jammu and Kashmir’s power assets.
The employees believe that privatisation will be the next step, especially with the Centre having told Parliament recently that it plans to privatise the power sectors of the Union Territories.
People here see the alleged privatisation bid — the first such initiative since Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status in 2019 — as an effort to snatch the erstwhile state’s resources and further dispossess Kashmiris.
While the administration’s move has parallels with the momentous changes of 2019, government employees have unlike last time put up a united fight in both Kashmir and Jammu.
Officials said 20,000 employees had struck work leaving large parts of the region, particularly the Valley, reeling from power outages amid sub-zero temperatures. On Saturday night, the mercury plummeted to minus six degrees Celsius. The weather office in Srinagar has predicted snowfall and a further drop in temperatures this week.
The employees have decided not to carry out repairs or maintenance until the government reverses its decision and honours its earlier promises to regularise daily-wage employees and facilitate the unhindered release of salaries. Hundreds of employees have staged protests for the past two days.
“Our state built those assets over generations; how can they hand them over to a central entity? We will fight it tooth and nail,” an employee said.
An official said two rounds of negotiations with the striking employees had failed to achieve a breakthrough.
Sachin Tickoo, general secretary of the power employees’ union, said the government was selling the assets of the transmission sector.
“They want to systematically transfer our assets. That is the backbone of our department,” he said.
The government move came days after it handed over charge of the power department to Nitishwar Kumar, an Uttar Pradesh-cadre IAS officer who is principal secretary to lieutenant governor Sinha.
While state governments hold the key to privatising their power infrastructure, Jammu and Kashmir lost that privilege after being reduced to a Union Territory.
The power employees contend that Jammu and Kashmir cannot be treated on a par with other Union Territories, underlining that its population is three times that of the rest combined.