New Delhi: Around 70 workers from the Badarpur Thermal Power Station (BTPS), run by the NTPC Ltd., marched to Parliament Street in New Delhi Thursday morning, demanding urgent relief for over 450 contractual workers who have lost their jobs as the power plant was permanently shut down on October 15.
The march was organised by the Mazdoor Ekta Committee, a Delhi-based workers’ solidarity group. Representatives from the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) were also present to express solidarity with the workers.
Why the plant was shut down
BTPS is the oldest power plant in Delhi with an installed capacity of 720 MW and has been regularly supplying around 400 MW of power to Delhi. The plant employs around 1200 workers, most of whom are hired on contract. Considered one of the most polluting coal-based power plants in the country, there have been repeated demands from activists and the civil society to shut the plant down. The Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) had suggested permanent closure of the plant by mid-2018 in its Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP) for Air Pollution Control in Delhi & NCR. A new sub-station in Tughlaqabad is expected to start operations very soon and compensate for the Badarpur plant.
No closure notice to contractual workers
Jitendra Kumar, 32, father of a 5-year-old boy, was hired on contract by the BTPS five years ago. He alleges that the workers were not given any prior notice before closure and that it has become difficult for him to manage household expenses because the news came as a shock to him. “We were told clearly only on October 27 that we were not supposed to come after our gate passes expired on October 31. They kept telling us that no decision had been made and we also didn’t see this coming as the plant was shut down for six months last year as well but we weren’t let go and operations started again. This time they have shut it down permanently,” Kumar adds.
Chandrashekhar Singh, 43, has also been working with the BTPS for the last five years. He says most of the employees who have been let go are now ‘over-age’ for similar work elsewhere and they’ll be forced to work at even half the minimum wage under private employers in unrelated fields. “Our five years of experience as skilled labour also amounts to nothing as we will have to start afresh in a different line of work with exploitative wages. We should have been notified at least three months in advance to look for work elsewhere. We are left rudderless now,” he adds.
Demands and grievances
The main demands as listed in a memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Narandra Modi, BTPS general manager, and labour and power ministers, include rehabilitation of these workers by providing alternate employment in the National Capital Region (NCR), adequate compensation, payment of all statutory dues and issuance of service certificates.
Om Prakash Gupta, advocate and advisor to the workers, alleges that contractual workers were forced to do jobs of permanent and perennial nature for years, which is in violation of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970. He also calls the move to shut the BTPS down without consultation or notice ‘illegal’ and in violation of Section 25-O of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
“The closure of the BTPS and throwing the contract labour out of employment is in violation of Section 25 FFF, 25 G, 25 J, 25 K, 25 M, 25 N of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and the same also invite various penalties. The BTPS is also liable to proceedings under section 32 of the Act,” reads a memorandum addressed to R.K. Singh, minister of state (IC) for power and new & renewable energy, and signed by Birju Nayak, secretary of the Mazdoor Ekta Committee and advocate O.P. Gupta.
The workers have planned a peace march from outside the gates of the BTPS to the PM’s residence on November 18, where they will personally submit a memorandum for redressal of their grievances. If the issue is not settled even then, they say they will go on a strike on November 26.