Thank you to AIFAP, All India Forum Against Privatisation. I am highly indebted to all of the founding members to have given J&K this opportunity to actually represent and put our points across to you in the national platform. I would send warm greetings to all the participating members and even to those who have not been able to participate today. Sir, this fight against privatisation was taken forward in Jammu and Kashmir. You will be highly appreciative of the fact that J&K, having been degraded from a state to union territory, still gave a befitting reply to this privatisation move because currently, union territories are directly administered by the central government, and the policies and the programme of the central government are directly implemented without any hitch in the union territories.
You would have heard last year that during the middle of the COVID wave, the Honourable Finance Minister Nirmala ji had announced that the privatisation of the distribution sector in the union territories will be taken up without even getting the nod of the parliament. Electricity being a concurrent subject always means that the parliament should have been taken on board. But by an Executive Order, they were trying to push the privatisation of the distribution sector in the union territories. We had seen that in Chandigarh, they had initiated the process of privatisation even though Chandigarh is such a union territory where the transmission and distribution losses were less than 10%, and it was a very profitable venture in the government sector undertaking.
So, the criteria that losses are there, that is why we are going for privatisation and improving consumer efficiency was a totally false statement. It was basically, I can say, privatising the profits and subsidising the losses. The theory of this whole privatisation that is going on is that you give up the lucrative areas to the private sectors, you give the cherry-picked areas to the private sectors.
Jammu and Kashmir has a very tough terrain across different areas: we are a border state, our areas are difficultly managed, and some are snow-bound and even cut-off for nearly months during winters. So, even in this union territory, they tried to push privatisation.
The recent misadventure of the government was, to our surprise, in the transmission sector. The transmission sector all over India is state-owned currently. None of the states or union territories currently has a transmission sector where some other company has been involved. The Minister of Power issued an advisory that you can go ahead with the joint venture with the Power Grid Corporation of India. Without taking any of the stakeholders of J&K into confidence from the employees’ point of view or the consumers or the Joint Electricity Regulation Commission, they reached to a point where even an agreement or MoU was being signed for a joint venture.
As we were aware, the Power Grid Corporation of India is having 51% stake of the government of India and the rest is by shareholders and private investors in Power Grid. So, it was an indirect move of indulging into the privatisation of the transmission sector of J&K, which could have been catastrophic, J&K being a border state, such a sensitive security concern to the whole country.
Last time when we saw major floods in Ladakh, only the telecom operator of BSNL was able to serve people and only BSNL was able to cater to the people and prevented Ladakh from getting cut-off on communication lines from India. You can understand, during COVID also, people were dependent on the Power Development Department, a government sector entity, for power, because J&K currently has the lowest rate: Rs. 3 is the unit rate. All over India, the national average is around Rs. 7–8. The reason being, the government, instead of investing in the generation sector and giving more opportunities, has gone ahead with the privatisation moves.
We have swallowed a bitter pill when we saw that in the generation sector, NHPC has been involved, and most of our resources are being utilised by the NHPC and power is being supplied to the rest of the country, and we are getting a meagre share of that. The situation is that we are buying power from the rest of the country at high rates despite the fact that our resources have the potential of 20,000 MW. When such a huge potential is being exploited, and we are being given a meagre share of that, we are not able to meet our own requirement of around 2,500 or 3,000 MW. We are going to pay for the extra charges, and then we are going to supply power to our consumers.
Our fight started from this fact that the government had gone ahead with the decision to actually form a joint venture with the Power Grid Corporation of India. We gave a boycott notice. It was a historic opportunity, and we could not have missed on this fight because we were very clear in our vision that if we allow Power Grid to get into our assets — they were not bringing anything, they were not even the owners of the assets, they were just going to take it on a platter from us and become 50% partners in the assets which we currently have developed and in the future whatever assets were going to be created — that would have led to outsourcing and tomorrow Power Grid would have slashed our job opportunities.
Already J&K is one of the highest unemployed union territories; around 21% of the people are unemployed now. Most of the engineers in J&K are currently unemployed from the last 5–6 years because no job opportunities either in the private sector or in the government sector were getting created. So, we took this up as a flash point because we cannot compromise on this fact that this joint venture was not in the interest of the employees.
We have around 10,000 daily wagers whose careers would have been at stake because ultimately, another partner was getting into our sector and he was not bringing anything into it, except that he was taking away everything from us. For the sake of the future of all those daily rated workers and for our own future and for overall the consumers—we were also very happy that once we conveyed our point of strike and we gave our boycott notice to the government, we also interacted with the media and tried to give a narrative to them which was based on facts. We told them that if another company is getting created, it will have its own operating expenses, it will push those expenses on to the consumers. Ultimately, it is going to burden the consumers only. Even though we may safeguard our own interests of service rights, what will happen to the consumer?
Currently, the consumer is enjoying all the facilities. If the consumer is the focus, then operational expenses burdening the consumer should not have been the way out. So, the consumers also accepted our point. You will be really appreciative of the fact that for the first time, the people of J&K from around 20–30 social organisations, political organisations, came into the fight and supported us outrightly. Even political leaders gave statements in our favour. Even the Bar Association which represents the lawyers and the Chamber of Commerce of J&K supported us strongly. They all gave statements because we were able to convince them with our narrative that it is not in the overall interest of J&K which currently is in a transition phase.
Currently, we are told that we may become a state after a few months. So, at this point of time, power sector cannot be given on a platter to a private sector entity which is already a listed company like Power Grid. They cannot be given the assets which we have created over the years. J&K has progressed on the power front also. In 2002, we were having 2,500 MW of transmission capacity. Today, we have around 5,000 MW of transmission capacity. That was all done by the Power Development Department, that was done by our own people, our own daily rated workers and all our people have contributed to creating those assets.
If we would have allowed Power Grid to take a 50% share into this whole sector, it would have opened a window for the private sector to actually get into MoUs with Power Grid and they would have created their hegemony, like NHPC has done in the Chinar valley power projects. We were apprehensive of this move, and we gave a notice and because the first round of talks had failed on 17th, we proceeded on work boycott.
The work boycott we had planned was that if any fault arises at the consumer premises or lowest rung of the feeder at 11-KV line, we will not rectify that fault. If any fault arises, except for at hospitals, the rectification work will not be taken up. God helped us and slowly the faults erupted in the system on its own and our people cooperated. There are representatives of 20,000 people on the Power Employees and Engineers Coordination Committee. 20,000 employees of the J&K government are working with the Power Development Department. They resolved that we will not work on these faults. In Kashmir, there was nearly 5-degree temperature in the day and minus temperatures in the night, and in Jammu also nearly sub-zero temperatures were being witnessed. But not only the people cooperated, but even our employees.
It was a victory of the employees because they in unison decided that we will not rectify those faults because the government was not seriously conducting the talks. It went on for nearly 96 hours. At around the 70th hour, the army was called into the grid stations, but they were also helpless because we were never going to shut down the power supply. We never shut off the power supply from any of the places, at none of the stations we had put the grid stations or receiving stations off.
We only believed in patience. We believed that patiently we will have to explain to the government what my daily wager is doing, what my engineer is doing, how we are running the system 24×7. They were not realising our requirement. Once the system started collapsing on its own, they were left with nothing. They were saying that grids are working but power is not getting delivered to the consumers, so they were shocked. How can army operate electricity on the pole? It can only sit in guard at the grid stations which we never intended to harm because it was our property: why should we have indulged into anything with the grid or receiving stations?
So, we waited and watched, and perseverance was a big thing. We waited for nearly 72 hours for the system to slowly collapse—people who understand can estimate that from nearly 1,000 MW of energy that we were supplying before 17th, we came down to 400 MW. So, 600 MW of energy was not being delivered to the consumers. So, a large number of areas witnessed blackouts across J&K, that too in such a harsh winter. The government was forced to actually understand the fact that unless our people start working, it was not possible for them to give power to the consumers. Ultimately, the government was taken off guard, and for the first time they realised that power employees and engineers are such an important asset, and they were ignoring them and they were thinking that it was easy to bulldoze them.
We faced no coercive action, it is a victory. We faced no coercive action due to the fact of the unity. At every meeting, I used to tell my comrades that I am not the person who should be leading, you all are in the leading capacities because you are running the system. If you don’t work, your place will suffer and the blackout will be witnessed in that area. Ultimately, my hands and legs were those people who were on the ground. Thanks to Almighty, I must say that being a union territory plus the army being called in, the central ministry being directly involved, a policy decision was involved, everything was reversed.
While getting into the agreement stage, we made sure that we did not relent unless and until we made them realise that we are the major stakeholders and unless and until the Power Employees and Engineers Coordination Committee is part of the deliberation on what is the way forward, this proposal cannot go ahead.
Connected to that, we had another few major demands in this agenda because ever since our corporations had come into existence, we are facing delay in salary. Our people were being delayed salaries on the pretext that you are a loss-making entity. But we had joined government service, we had joined through the Service Selection Board from the Public Service Commission, so all these people were being made to suffer on account of delay of salaries. We made it a point to make the government realise that you cannot deny our salaries. On that account also, I am pleased to inform you that for the first time in the history of J&K, the salaries were disbursed on the 31st itself, not even the 1st. So, on the 31st of the previous month, we were immediately disbursed salaries across the 20,000 employees.
All this was achieved because, I must say, we had support of the All India Power Engineers Federation. From the beginning, nearly 20 states had given our demands letter to the Lt. Governor, to the central Home Ministry. They had sent support letters to all officials. At the very first call, Er. Shailendra Dubey, who is the chairman of the All India Power Engineers Federation, came to Jammu and camped here with us for nearly 3 days. He didn’t leave the place until we reached an agreement. It was really commendable on his part that we got his experience alongside.
I must say that from this experience we have learned a lot. We have learned that nothing is impossible if we have a clear vision and goal in mind. Our employees are very highly motivated right now due to the fact that all the system was against us, they were thinking that power employees have no power, they were being taken for granted. This agitation has really given a new life to the power employees and engineers, and it has raised us morally, and we have come out of it very strongly at a high. We were able to convince each and every corner of the administration and even the society. The biggest factor is that there is a change in the mood of the society towards us now because people related to what we were saying.
I must say that the guidance of AIFAP also helped, we got some important support from AIFAP also during our agitation through Er. Shailendra Dubey who was already part of AIFAP. It is a good beginning because all over India, this is the first agitation on this issue. You can understand, in J&K, it is very difficult to talk against the government. It is very difficult. In Kashmir, for the first time after Article 370 was abrogated, you can see that people had gathered in nearly thousands and protested. They didn’t relent to switching on the power supply. People really cooperated. It was a mass movement. It was something that we never expected. Even on a personal front, my family, everyone’s families cooperated. We didn’t have electricity for nearly 3 days, still our families cooperated. There was shortage of water, even mobile telephone and internet went down at a number of places.
You can understand that the power employees and engineers are vital, the power sector is a vital basic building block of all the services that are entangled with it. It was because of us that the hospitals were running, otherwise things would have been very bad. I can say that good sense prevailed and even Almighty showed good path to the government and it didn’t turn into any other direction. We amicably got to an agreement where we have emerged victorious in policy decision. I must say that we have even been able to convey in the generation sector, which already has NHPC hegemony, that a lot of positions which could have been occupied by people from J&K—I always have a soft corner that people of J&K, being at the remotest place, they need to really get jobs. You can understand me going out to Maharashtra and working there is quite difficult because staying away from your roots cannot be endless, it cannot be infinite. We have already faced a migration, I personally migrated at the age of nearly 5 years from that part of Kashmir and then settled in Jammu. My colleagues all over the world have split up into different places.
We can understand that it is very important that our government needed to understand that this step was really going to snatch a lot of job opportunities. When outsourcing happens, very few jobs are created. You all are very learned compared to me, you can understand that capitalism was at its peak and it was crony capitalism that we would have witnessed. Being a political science student, I would say that it was a struggle of a lifetime. I have engineers and people who have retired nearly 20 years back saying that this kind of struggle we have seen not even in 50 years.
Across India, a number of struggles have happened. As far as J&K was concerned, with all odds turned against us, we emerged victorious. It is we, it is not any individual, it is all from Jammu to Kupwara, Kashmir, everyone participated. I had my colleague from Kashmir, Munshi Majid Ali, president of the J&K Electrical Graduate Engineers. He played a vital role in Kashmir along with his team of other unions. Daily wagers, technicians, everyone did a fabulous job. Getting support from Poonch Rajouri, you might have heard those names, they witnessed complete blackout. People from Bhaderwah, Doda, Kishtwar, all places, really supported.
When the army was called, I was thinking that maybe our people will get demotivated and what will happen next. But I didn’t know that the extraordinary Almighty was responsible for sending in that message into my head and everyone’s head, because it was absorbed. The first day, we had a gathering of 1,000 people, and once the army was called, we had a gathering of 5,000 people! I was really inspired. That night, I could not sleep. I didn’t go home for nearly 5 days. We were roaming in cars because the police were looking for our location, they wanted to track us, they wanted to hold us, they wanted to just get this movement called off by some or the other way. When we appeared in those public meetings in the morning, people were really rejuvenated.
It actually was a people’s movement. It is actually a historic struggle that people have witnessed and been part of. We had an exemplary woman force, female colleagues, who have also figured on the AIFAP website in our victory march. We had strong support of all those women who stood by us and didn’t leave the dharna station. Such exemplary movements are really our way forward, because privatisation just to say for consumer satisfaction, all those things are really not what the government is looking for. We can see those experiments with our own eyes. Like Chandigarh being a profitable venture in the power sector and still being privatised. All these things remind us of the fact that there is something more that the government is looking for. The government is trying to sell off the assets which we were totally against. We have nearly 24,000 crores of assets involved in the transmission sector of J&K. If those assets would have been given on a platter to the Power Grid, it would have become another cause of imperialism because somebody was just going to take it away and sit on it, and we would have always repented it for our whole lives.
I would say that we are all with AIFAP. It is a historic opportunity to be sharing our experience with you all learned people out there in the panel. We will continue to support and actively participate in whatever programmes we receive from AIFAP. Being part of the All India Power Engineers Federation, we already have a strong network. You can be assured that 20,000 people of Power Development Department of J&K are with AIFAP. We are all victorious, we have to just believe in ourselves. Because of the belief, at every point of time, we were able to sail through. Belief in the vision and goal. We had no politics in mind, we knew that this government’s decision is wrong. Unless and until that is clear, no success is achievable. I can say that the only mantra of this success was that we believed in God and we believed that our thought process that we were against the demerits of this venture. That is the basic thing. If you are on a true path, I think that success will always kiss your feet and that happened. Once again, from J&K we thank all of you. Thank you very much.