Govt seeks Army Engg Wing help to restore power, no major outage in Kashmir

PDD employees staging protest in Jammu on Sunday. -Excelsior/Rakesh
PDD employees staging protest in Jammu on Sunday. -Excelsior/Rakesh

People suffer as electricity crisis hits J&K with employees’ strike

Gopal Sharma
JAMMU, Dec 19: For the first time in the history, the Government today sought Army Engineering Services help to restore essential services (Power supply) in Jammu and Kashmir after the Power Development Department went on indefinite strike while angry public staged protests at several places over total blackout in many parts of the region.
The strike by the Power Development Department employees against privatisation and other issues entered second consecutive day despite the administration’s request to resume work. With the every passing day, the miseries of the people are aggravating as many electric feeders are going out of order with increasing load on the system during these harsh winters. The water supply has also been badly hit in many areas.
Excelsior office received a large number of calls not only from Jammu City but also from Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban, Rajouri and Kathua to know about the outcome of the talks between the Government and striking employees and possibility of restoration of power. They accused Government of failure to resolve the crisis and restore essential services during these harsh winter days. Some callers revealed that their patients who are suffering from respiratory problem and dependent on artificial oxygen support system were facing problem due to power failure.
As the two rounds of talks between the Government and the employees’ representatives again failed today, the UT Administration sought Army Engineering Wing help to restore power supply specially in Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban, Rajouri, Poonch and many parts of Jammu City. An Army Column of EME and MES wings also reached Gladini Power Station late this evening and launched operation to restore power supply in many areas of Jammu. Powergrid, NHPC, NTPC and REC officials are also assisting Army in restoration of power supply.
Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Dr Raghav Langar and ADG Mukesh Singh joined Managing Director JKPDCL, Shivanant Tyal and two Chief Engineers of the PDD to initiate talks with the striking employees. They moved to the dharna site in the office complex of Chief Engineer at Canal Road and held meeting. A leader of the employees Union, however, claimed that the talks again ended in deadlock as there was no written assurance from the Government side.
Over 20,000 power sector employees had boycotted work around midnight on Friday in support of their various demands, including shelving of a proposed joint venture between the Jammu and Kashmir Power Transmission Corporation Limited and the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited.
The employees from all Unions and Associations, from linemen to senior engineers, decided to go on indefinite strike after failure of talks with the government and staged demonstrations in the twin capital cities besides in district headquarters for the second day on Sunday, a spokesman of the Coordination Committee of Power Employees said.
Sources said that many parts of the Union Territory witnessed total blackout due to the ongoing strike, as a result of which people are facing tremendous hardships due to non-availability of electricity and water supply, leading to protests by angry residents in Jammu city and other districts who are reeling under severe cold conditions.
He said they had presented a four-point formula to the Government, but it failed to accept their demands, including a white paper on non-fulfilment of the recommendations of the unbundling report and the failure to create positions as mandated by the committee at gazetted and non-gazetted levels, regularisation of daily wagers and all power development department engineers.
They are also demanding de-linking their salary from grant-in-aid and releasing a regular budget for all PDD employees on deputation to different Corporations and a white paper of service condition of PDD employees on deputation to the Chenab Valley Power Projects Private Limited (CVPPL) and similarly situated employees deputed from the NHPC.
An official spokesman said the J&K Government is taking a sympathetic view of the issues raised and has engaged in several rounds of talks with the coordination committee of the power employees.
“During each round of talks, the government representatives have appealed to the power employees to call off their strike as people in both Jammu and Kashmir divisions are suffering. In the wake of COVID-19 contagion and nail-biting cold in both the divisions, the coordination committee of the power employees is requested to end its strike,” the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Divisional Commissioner Jammu, Dr Raghav Langar flanked by ADG Mukesh Singh and MD JPDCL, during a press conference late this evening said that out of the 12 power feeders in Jammu district 10 have been restored. Remaining two, including one feeding Bishnah area will also be restored by tomorrow. He said there are 1096 feeders in ten districts of Jammu region with 366 power stations. He claimed that 45 % of the feeders have turned non-functional. He said help of EME wing of the Army besides, MES, NHPC has been sought to restore power supply.
Dr Langar said that they listened to the grievances of the striking employees and their all the main demands have been accepted. It was also told that their joint venture issue has also been put on hold and they will get salary in time. For regularisation of daily wagers, the process has already has been set in motion and it will take some time.
ADG, Mukesh Singh said that they had talks in very cordial atmosphere with the representatives of the employees. It is hoped that they will discuss the issue and call off their strike shortly. He said they would continue to hold dialogue and resolve the issue. For power restoration the help of Army engineers has been sought and anybody fiddling with the system will have to face action.
The MD JPDCL said that they have already agreed to the main demands of the striking employees and there was no reason now to continue with the strike. He said they were constantly talking to the employees and their leaders and have appealed them to resume work.
In Srinagar, there is no such major crisis as in Jammu but rural areas of the Valley are affected by the strike. Kashmir is already facing long power cuts and the strike has worsened the power situation as the night temperatures have plummeted to minus 6 degree Celsius.
There have been protests by striking PDD employees at several places across Kashmir today. From lineman to senior engineers, every employee of the PDD is part of the strike.
In Srinagar, several areas like Nowshera, Kawdara, Danmar, Sangam, Soura, Lal Bazar, Alamgiri Bazar, Zadibal, Ahmadakadal, Panzinara, Kreshbal and Zainakote faced severe power crisis since yesterday. However, in some areas it was restored in the evening but power failures are taking longer times for restoration.
The power snags in several areas have remained unaddressed. In some areas people with respiratory problems who are on oxygen support are facing problems. Some NGOs providing oxygen cylinders today claimed that oxygen cylinder demand has increased due to power outage as oxygen concentrators are not working in absence of electricity.
The power crisis has been reported from almost all districts with rural areas worst affected by the strike as the power snags are not being rectified by the striking employees.
An official said that at places Police have been deployed in the Receiving Stations to prevent foul play for power outage.
Officials say negotiations were held with striking employees but failed to break the ice.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Pandurang K Pole told Excelsior that there is no major impact on power situation in Kashmir due to the strike. He said that they are in touch with the striking employees. “There is no major disagreement”, he added,
“There is no major breakdown. The maximum feeders are on in Kashmir. There is some breakdown in rural areas and technical staff which is not on strike is working on that to restore power”, he said.
“The power in Kashmir in winters is as essential as food and we have requested them to call off the strike because people are suffering”, he said.
The Divisional Commissioner said that Police have been deployed in some areas around receiving stations to prevent the anti-social elements to take advantage of the strike and disrupt the power.