The indefinite strike by electricity employees opposing the privatisation of power distribution was suspended till Deepavali on Monday night, after several rounds of negotiations between representatives of the government and the workers.
P. Velmurugan, general secretary of the Electricity Engineers and Employees’ Privatisation/Corporatisation Protest Committee, said the government had agreed to take up with the Ministry of Home Affairs their proposal for whittling down the private equity share to 49%, with the government retaining a 51% controlling stake. “This way, the Electricity Department would continue to be a State-run entity,” he said.
In effect, the demand is to scrap the September 27 tender of the Electricity Department calling for bids to sell 100% of the shares to a private entity for the distribution and retail-end supply of power, and to get MHA approval for floating a fresh tender incorporating the proposed 51:49 ratio for submission of Request for Proposal by bidders.
The committee has also demanded the withdrawal of all cases against workers in connection with the strike. “We will resume our agitation if the demand is not met,” Mr. Velmurugan said. Earlier in the day, Chief Minister N. Rangasamy convened a Cabinet meeting to discuss the situation and negotiate a settlement with the striking employees. According to trade union leaders, the reworked equity share ratio proposal was made in response to the government’s stand that as a Union Territory, it was constricted in objecting to the implementation of a Central policy.
Earlier, about 700 employees of the Electricity Department were arrested when they staged a sit-in at the head office. A team of senior police personnel held talks with them and appealed to them to disperse. But the staff refused to budge and the local police, along with Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel, detained them. The workers were taken to a community hall on the premises of Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research. They were released on bail.
Representatives of various power utilities in neighbouring States also participated in the protest in Puducherry. The police booked 29 electricity employees for causing disruption to power supply.
A press note from T. Arun, Power Secretary, said the government had proposed to privatise the power distribution functions of the Electricity Department in order to increase efficiency and consumer satisfaction. “The Electricity Department being a Public Utility Service Department, the employees cannot be allowed to resort to a strike that affects the public, and they are duty-bound to honour their designated duties. Any strike by the Electricity Department employees is illegal under Section 3 (q) of the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 and liable for action as per the said rules. The period of strike will be considered as break in their service,” the government said.
(With inputs from S. Prasad)