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People suffer as electricity crisis hits J&K amid ongoing strike by employees

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Govt asks employees to call off strike, political leaders press for amicable resolution of the issue to end peoples’ sufferings

Srinagar/Jammu: Made to go without electricity supply during the cold, dark winters with minimum temperatures plunging to record lows in the Valley, the anger and frustration of the people with the Power department as well as the government in general was at its peak on Sunday.

No wonder that angry residents staged protests over total blackout in several parts of Jammu and Kashmir, as the strike by Power Development Department (PDD) employees against privatisation and other issues entered second day despite the administration’s request to resume work.

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 spokesperson of the coordination committee of power supply employees said.

Officials said 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 wave conditions.

The spokesperson said they had presented a four-point formula to the government, but it failed to accept their demands, including a white paper on non-fulfillment 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 PDD engineers.

They are also demanding delinking 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 government of J&K, taking a “sympathetic view” of the issues raised, 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.

Reacting to the situation, Union minister Jitendra Singh expressed hope of a peaceful resolution to the issue at the earliest.

“The administration is on the job… the time cannot be stopped as we have to keep pace with development in the rest of the country. The employees are part of the society and if they feel insecure, it is the responsibility of the rulers to address their concerns and move forward along with them,” he told reporters here.

National Conference vice-president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah asked the government to leave privatisation decisions to an elected government.

“The J&K administration may be able to claim the constitutional authority to privatise the assets of J&K, but it completely lacks the political authority. Decisions of this nature with far reaching consequences should be left to an elected government,” he wrote on Twitter.

The striking employees have made it clear that the repairs and restoration work would not be undertaken at all unless the feeder is supplied to any hospital.

Senior BJP leader and former legislator Devender Singh Rana also expressed concern over many parts of the Jammu city as also peripheries plunging into darkness and urged the administration to take earnest measures in resolving the issues with the striking employees, especially during these chilly days.

He hoped that all concerned will act responsibly as the stakes are very high, not only in terms of restoring electricity in the affected areas, but also to ensure that students do not suffer as they are solely dependent on online classes and examinations.

“Failure in power supply is impacting the internet services,” he added.

Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party president Mohammad Altaf Bukhari also expressed serious concerns over the indefinite strike in opposition to a government decision that intends to privatise grid stations.

“Over 20,000 electrical employees are currently on a strike due to which numerous areas across J&K are facing prolonged power blackouts and lingering of essential repair works. All of this is happening in the harsh cold winter season which is exponentially adding to the existing woes of the general public,” he observed.

Bukhari demanded that the government should review its decision at an earliest to resolve this deadlock with the concerned employees’ association in order to avoid further inconvenience to the people. (With PTI inputs)

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