UP Power Strike Affects Normal Life; Govt Invokes ESMA Against Protesters

Most hospitals in the state are suffering due to power outages while some are able to manage with generators. Several parts of the state have been facing power outages for as long as 72 hours now.

New Delhi: The ongoing strike by power department employees in Uttar Pradesh has affected normal life in the state. Most hospitals in the state are suffering due to power outages while some are able to manage with generators. Several parts of the state have been facing power outages for as long as 72 hours now.

Starting from 10 pm on Thursday, March 16, the power sector employees have been on strike demanding the government resolve their concerns. The state is on high alter in view of the strike. The government has invoked Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against protesters, further issuing warnings that it would slap the National Security Act (NSA) if they don’t resume their duties. It has also terminated the services of 1,332 contractual workers.

Nearly 1 lakh employees have been on strike under the banner of Vidyut Karamcharis Sanyukt Sangharsh, a union of electricity department employees. They claimed that the government has not implemented some of the changes that were agreed upon between the state and the employees in December 2022.

These included implementing the Power Sector Employees Protection Act, stopping the outsourcing of operation and maintenance of power sub-stations for transmission, agreeing to equal honorarium for different corporations, revising allowances, and fixing salary anomalies. It also included fulfilling criteria for the selection of power companies’ chairman and managing directors through a committee headed by the chief secretary, instead of being filled on the basis of transfer.

The government has warned of invoking NSA too. It has also threatened to fire temporary workers, if they do not resume work, or if public property is damaged. The Hindu quoted state energy minister Arvind Sharma as saying: “The Essential Services Maintenance Act has been invoked against the employees across the state. If those employees involved in the strike damage properties or are found preventing others from performing their duties, then the NSA will be invoked.”

This is not the first time that UP power employees have gone on strike. In October 2020, they had boycotted work for an indefinite period to protest against the proposed privatisation of the Varanasi discom. The strike affected the power supply in 21 districts of eastern UP.

In May 2020 and 2021, the Yogi Adityanath-led government had invoked the ESMA in the state for six months. In 2020, the provisions were further extended for another six months.

ESMA gives police the power to arrest anyone without a warrant, for violating its provisions.

Power cuts

Uttar Pradesh’s energy minister, A.K. Sharma, in a press conference on March 18 said that the strike was not successful and that there was no problem [of power cuts] in the state. He added that “we have enough supplies and less demands.”

However, the minister’s statement contradicts the reports from different cities where people faced power cuts and disruptions.

The convenor of Vidyut Karamcharis Sanyukt Sangharsh, Shailendra Dubey, told The Wire that they were being threatened by the government with arrests under the ESMA. He said that they would continue their strike until their demands were met.

The Wire spoke to people from different cities in UP who struggled due to power cuts.

Gorakhpur: On March 17, Aditya Gupta, a class 12 student whose board exams are going on, suffered for hours due to power cuts. “My last exam, computer [science], is all about practical knowledge and the Internet. How will I study if power cuts keep happening? I’m worried about my studies,” he said.

The Wire also found that some hospitals are running on generators due to the strike. For instance, Kareli’s Prayagraj Hospital is facing such an issue.

“First I thought the government would resolve the problem but they failed to do so. My hospital now completely depends on the generators,” Dr. Ariz Qadri, director of Prayagraj Hospital, told The Wire. Every six hours, Dr. Qadri visits general wards and rooms to announce that they have to turn off the generators for an hour or two. This is done to give the generator some rest and check if everything is fine.

“This is the first time that our team had to say no to a few patients who came to the hospital with serious conditions. Because of power cuts, we could not admit them [to the hospital],” he said.

Dr. Qadri also said that he could not afford to run the generators for long. Therefore, he urged the government to resolve the issue at the earliest.

In Kannauj’s Harsh Vardhan Nagar, villagers had to walk a kilometre to fetch water.

Poonam Yadav, a village resident, and several other women were informed by the administration that there would be no electric supply for 72 hours. “We have to walk a kilometer, twice a day, to bring water home. The education of children in the village is also suffering as examinations are going on,” she told The Wire.

Another group of villagers said, “First we have to walk for a kilometre, then we have to stand in a queue to get water. Why is the government not solving this issue?”

In Deoria’s Savitri hospital, a worker told The Wire, “Rampur Lala is my village. We were told by the administration on the night of March 16 that there would be no power supply for three days. At least 350 people in my village are suffering due to this issue.”

The Wire also spoke with workers who were on night duty on March 16. They said that they were being forced to work overtime as there were no workers available.

Dubey said, “If the government takes any action against our co-workers, this strike can continue for a long time.”

Former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav tweeted saying: “In order to hand over electricity in private hands, Delhi-Lucknow are harassing both UP residents and electricity workers. BJP wants to take away the employment of contract workers? The police who are not able to handle law and order, how will they handle electricity? (sic)

Congress leader Ajay Kumar Lallu told The Wire, “We are standing with these workers no matter what. Our party will raise their voices. If they are not happy with some work of the government, then they have every right to protest against it. Our party in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh made contract workers permanent as one of their demands is to make them permanent. If we were in power, then we would have done the same here in Uttar Pradesh.”

Senior journalist Sharat Pradhan said that the UP government does not know how to communicate effectively with the people. The government believes what they have said is the law and that everyone must follow it, he added.