Thousands of striking employees attached to various trade unions of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation marched towards the Thermal Power Station-I in a bid to picket it on Tuesday.

However, they were stopped en route by the police and were taken on NLC-run buses to two nearby community halls for detention.

The police said 960 employees were under their custody.

Those who were taken into custody included leaders of the recognised unions such as Labour Progressive Federation (Neyveli unit affiliated to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) general secretary S. Rajavanniyan, and Anna Workers and Staff Union (affiliated to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) secretary Rama. Udayakumar.

Prior to the picketing programme, the union leaders addressed the gathering criticising the executives and engineers for attending duty, regardless of the strike that entered the seventh day on Tuesday.

Mr. Rajavanniyan said that the protest was mainly aimed at protecting the NLC which was indeed a public property and to save the tax-payers’ money. Since the NLC was a public sector undertaking it could supply electricity at Rs. 3.25 a unit whereas the private power producers were charging Rs. 10 - Rs. 14 a unit.

Therefore, the stake sale had severe forebodings as it would deny free power to the farmers and create power crisis in the southern region. He said that the striking employees were observing “military discipline” all these seven days without causing any disruption to peace. “The stir is against the Centre and not against anybody else,” Mr Rajavanniyan added.

Mr. Udayakumar said that for the 27,000 employees, there were 4,500 officials and by the standard of any public sector undertaking the ratio was quite disproportionate. For the past 18 years the number of officials remained the same whereas that of the employees came down from 18,000 to 13,000. Deputy Inspector General of Police (Villupuram Range) S. Murugan, along with Superintendent of Police (Cuddalore) A. Radhika, is overseeing the police deployment on the NLC premises.

The DIG told The Hindu that about 2,000 police personnel, drawn from Cuddalore, Villupuram, Thiruvannamalai, Vellore and Kancheepuram, were on duty.

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