I keep highlighting the inefficiency and clumsiness of Government officials. During last month I wrote at least 5 articles on non implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the forcible eviction of tribals and other forest dwellers. Whatever the forest department would think about me, the Government has finally started rolling out the FRA which has been our demand. This hasn't ended here. I will continue with my advocacy and activism around the forest rights act. The VI part of the series is yet to come. Hopefully, next week. I don't evaluate the Govt work always on a critical note. On many occasions I do appreciate their work as well. Through this column I thought I must acknowledge the Govt officials publicly especially the warriors and unsung heroes of the power department. The officials of the power department have been doing an appreciable job and their role has been more significant during the recent snowfall.
On Jan 3rd when Kashmir witnessed the first snowfall of this year it was believed that power supply won't be restored for many days. The reason was further prediction of heavy snowfall. During the intervening night of 3rd and 4th January we witnessed a snowfall again. Srinagar and its surrounding areas located in Budgam and Ganderbal witnessed 6 inches of snow. Electricity was disconnected several times but the field staff of the Power Department now known as Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation Ltd (KPDCL) were on the toes. I won't say they fully restored the power supply , but we must acknowledge the fact that we were trying their best. This was authenticated from the fact that for some hours the power supply was on 4th and 5th Jan and then again went off. Even several far off villages in Budgam district received power supply for a few hours on Jan 3rd and 4th. Even when there was a huge accumulation of snow on Jan 5th the power supply was restored in many areas of Srinagar , Ganderbal and Budgam districts. There were reports that in other districts as well KPDCL men were trying their best to restore power supply.
When the power supply was restored unexpectedly on the evening of Jan 5th in Kralpora , Gopalpora , Wathoora and other adjoining areas of Chadoora after huge snowfall during the day it made me believe that officials of KPDL were on the job. In the past this was not the case. The officials would only come out the next day at an ease. Even before the snowfall our transformer in the locality developed some snag on various occasions but the concerned lineman Ghulam Nabi came to the spot even at 8pm or 9 pm in the bone chilling cold. It seems the management of KPDCL has done a lot of homework to face the winter crises. This would not have been possible without the active support of Executive Engineers, AEEs and Junior Engineers.
Lack of manpower
If we take example of Baramulla and Budgam districts there are around 4 Electric Divisions. Each division is headed by an Executive Engineer. Budgam has only electric division while Baramulla has 3 (Sopore and Baramulla) plus one special electric division Tangmarg. There are approximately around 175 engineering staff in these two districts. 75 in Budgam and 100 in Baramulla. There are around 300 linemen in Baramulla and Budgam who are directly responsible for restoration of damaged electric lines. For a population of 10 to 11 lakh people in Budgam district there are only 100 lineman in the entire electric division. Baramulla has 230 or more limemen in three divisions ( Sopore , Baramulla & Tangmarg). Baramulla has a population of approximately 15 lakh people which means for a population of 6500 people there is one lineman in Baramulla and for Budgam district which has a population of 12 lakh souls has only 100 linemen i.e. one lineman for a population of 12000 people. There are several need based employees as well who are doing great work but they are paid mere Rs 6000 per month by the Government . This meager honorarium is also not paid to them on a regular basis as they have to wait sometimes for several months to get paid this meager amount of money.
Violation of Minimum Wages Act
Paying Rs 6000 per month to the casual workers of the power department (KPDCL) is completely unjustified. If the Government pays such meager wages to its skilled workers how can they enforce the Minimum Wages Act in the private sector ? In 2017 the then PDP -BJP revised the Minimum Wages Act. The then Minister of Finance and Labour & Employment, Dr Haseeb Drabu approved the hike in 'Minimum Wages' for 'unskilled' labour from Rs 150 to Rs 225 per day, a hike of 50 per cent and for skilled workers the wages were hiked from Rs 225 per day to Rs 300. The casual employees of KPDCL are not only performing skilled work but I call climbing on an electric tower or a pole a highly skilled job which involves a high degree of risk. During the last 5 to 6 years dozens of such employees have died while performing their duties but Govt continues to sideline them. From October 2020 the skilled workers are entitled to be paid Rs 18,563 per month in Delhi but in case of casual workers of power department (KPDCL), they are paid a meager sum by authorities.
With an aim to reorganize the power sector in Jammu & Kashmir the erstwhile Power Development Department (PDD) was segregated into two companies namely Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation Limited (KPDCL) and Jammu Power Distribution Corporation Limited (JPDCL) with effect from Oct 30th 2019. Both the companies are headed by two Managing Directors and Power Secretary is the Chairperson of these companies (corporations). There are two Chief Engineer's for both the corporations whose job is similar to a Chief Operating Officer (COO) of any other private company. Both KPDCL and JPDCL are still under control of the Government and are yet to be self-sustaining entities. Their transition towards an independent company is yet to begin. This may take some more years I believe.
KPDCL under the leadership of its Managing Director Aijaz Assad, a young hard working IAS officer, is engaged in distribution of electricity in 10 districts namely Srinagar, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Anantnag, Budgam, Pulwama, Shopian, Kupwara, Kulgam & Bandipora. Mr Aijaz Assad along with his Chief Engineer Ajaz Ahmad Bhat have been doing great work during recent snowfall which has been applauded in the media and social media as well.
Officials involved in restoration of power supply on the ground during harsh weather conditions of Kashmir are the real warriors who need our appreciation and applause. I won't say that KPDCL has restored power supply in nook and corner of Kashmir valley but they are trying their best with meager resources. We must not ignore how the poor linemen are working in rains and snowfall, using broken ladders, and then fixing the power lines. Government must procure electric pole climbing shoes and better ladders for these people. The services of casual employees performing limen's job must be regularized and until that is done these workers should be paid adequately not less than what is paid to highly skilled labourers…
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder and Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement