Explained: Power shutdown in J&K, Army’s help sought — what is the crisis about?

Indian Army’s assistance has been sought as employees of the Jammu and Kashmir’s Power Development Department have gone on a strike in their protest against the alleged privatisation. The strike has affected multiple districts while a third of the total area in Jammu is under the cloak of darkness. The union territory is facing a power crisis at a time when the cold wave season has just begun. Details here.

Gaon Connection
| Updated: December 20th, 2021

Having received the administration’s request for assistance, the Indian Army personnel have been sent to undertake the required repair work needed to restore power in the affected areas.

A strike by the workers of Jammu and Kashmir’s power department has resulted in several districts in the union territory witnessing disruptions in electricity supply and state administration has sought assistance from the Indian Armyto restore power in the affected areas where the residents are struggling with freezing temperatures.

The Jammu’s Divisional Commissioner Raghav Langer wrote a letter to the Union Ministry of Defence, the General Officers Commanding of 9 and 16 Corps, and sought support to restore power. “We would like to hereby requisition the Indian Army to assist in the restoration of essential services by provisioning manpower to man critical electricity stations and water supply sources,’’ the letter was quoted.

It is reported that as many as 20,000 workers from the state’s power department, from ground level linesmen to top level engineers, went on a strike yesterday, on December 19 midnight as a mark of protests against their delayed salaries as well as government’s alleged attempt to privatise the power sector. 

Avinav Verma, a resident of Jammu’s Gangayal area told Gaon Connection that there has been no electricity at his house for past two days. “We are facing great difficulty here. It’s really cold and life seems to have come to a standstill. We are charging our phones by turning on our cars and using their charging ports,” the 29 year-old said.

What is the present situation in J&K?

The strike by the power department employees comes at a time when large swathes of areas in the union territory are reeling under sub-zero temperatures. 

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The absence of electricity in freezing temperatures has severely affected the heating facilities in districts like Jammu, Udhampur, Srinagar, Ganderbal, Pulwama, Kulgam, Shopian, Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara.

Having received the administration’s request for assistance, the Indian Army personnel have been sent to undertake the required repair work needed to restore power in the affected areas. 

Jammu and Kashmir’s local press reported that there is blackout in nearly 50 per cent areas across the union territory while the senior officials in the power department have claimed that about 75 per cent-80 per cent electricity feeders are still functional.

“We have nothing in hand… there is no one to attend to the faults snapping power supply to various areas,’’ Ashwani Sachdeva, chief engineer, Power Transmission Corporation Limited was quoted. 

What’s causing power outages in J&K?

According to a press release issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) today, there are chances of tripping of power lines in the very dense fog routes. It further advised that in such conditions, the maintenance team should be kept on standby to avoid inconvenience to the public. 

Actually, excessive humidity in the air in foggy conditions often results in condensation on the insulating parts of the power installations which often results in tripping and power blackouts in the regions.

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A strike by the electricity department in such conditions has resulted in the absence of the linesmen who are tasked with repairing such tripping. 

The IMD press release added that cold wave conditions at isolated pockets are very likely over Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan, Muzaffarabad and Himachal Pradesh in the next 48 hours. 

Why are the workers on strike?

The workers are protesting against the government’s plans to merge PDD with the Power Grid Corporation of India and the handing over of the assets to private distribution companies.

On December 4, the J&K administration had announced the merger of Power Transmission Corporation Limited (PTCL) and the Power Distribution Corporation Limited (PTDL) with the Power Grid Corporation of India, which the protesters have perceived as  ‘selling off’ of the government assets. 

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While the PTCLs are responsible for transmitting power lines above 33 kilovolts (KV) in their divisions, the PDCLs ensure transmission lines up to 33 KV and the grid stations.

“It’s a systematic transfer of assets which we are opposing. They are selling the assets of the transmission sector. They want to give 50% shareholding to the power grid which is against the interests of Jammu and Kashmir,” Sachin Tickoo, general secretary of power employee union was quoted.

Apart from protesting against the merger, the striking workers are also demanding timely payment of their salaries.

Shiva Nand, Managing Director of the Jammu Power Distribution Corporation Limited told the press that after several rounds of talks, the government had agreed to suspend the merger and re-examine all the areas of concern raised by employees. 

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“But the employees have now come up with new demands like reverting back to previous system such as granting them salary from government treasuries, which was not possible in view of the unbundling of power sector reforms in the UT,” Nand added.

It is reported that senior officials have been negotiating with the striking workers but there has been no headway so far.

An official from the power department told Gaon Connection that the Army personnel won’t be of much help in this situation.

“They are trained to operate in proper mechanised installations but here most of the installations are manual so the local linesmen know about the smallest details about the local arrangements,” he said.

Letter issued by the government asking the ITI students to take up the task to repair the faulty power lines.

“Also, the government has ordered final year students of ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes) to take up the repairing tasks. Even they won’t be of much help as they have all had their online classes for the past year and have no practical experience in repairing,” he added.

With inputs from Pratyaksh Srivastava