New Delhi: Asserting that the 72-hour power strike in Uttar Pradesh “compromised national interest”, the Allahabad High Court Friday issued bailable warrants against 29 office bearers of U.P. Vidyut Karmchari Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti — a body representing employees of the state’s power department.
With demands that relate to the selection of chairman and managing director in power companies and “pay anomalies”, employees of the Uttar Pradesh Electricity Department began their strike at 10 pm Thursday after the Wednesday’s dialogue between the state government and a section of protesting power department employees failed to yield any result Wednesday.
“Considering the urgency involved in the matter, bailable warrants are issued to the aforesaid office bearers of the union by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Lucknow, requiring their presence before this court at 10 am on 20 March, 2023,” said a bench comprising Justices Ashwani Kumar Mishra and Vinod Diwakar.
The court also initiated contempt proceedings against these office bearers, issuing notice to them, for violating its order passed by the high court in December last year.
The December order had said that the power department should ensure that supply is not disrupted, and that “strict action” is taken in case of disruption.
On Friday, the court said that the state authorities should ensure appropriate action be taken against erring officials, and observed, “From what has been placed before us, a serious situation is shown to have arisen, which requires immediate attention… Even if there is substance in the demand raised by the workers, yet, the entire state cannot be put to severe constraints by jeopardising overwhelming public interest.”
“Even national interest is compromised on account of reduction in the generation of power in different generating units of the state,” it added.
The court was hearing an application filed by advocate Vibhu Rai Friday, informing about the strike.
The application, seen by ThePrint, asserted that “due to the fact that the union has gone on strike, a large number people will be affected and the local hospitals as well as places where, due to the electricity disruption, many will not only suffer but will also be deprived of their basic right of living.”
It, therefore, demanded the court take note of the strike and direct the officials to resume work.
During the hearing, Additional Advocate General, Manish Goyal, appearing for the UP government, told the court that the state is making alternative arrangements by requisitioning staff from National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), National Grid Corporation and other central bodies.
He also submitted that action under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) has been initiated against the guilty officials. ESMA is a law passed by Parliament in 1968 to ensure the maintenance of essential services in the country, including power supply. Under the Act, the government can prohibit strikes in any essential services for a period of six months at a time, and striking employees can be punished with imprisonment for up to one year, and/or a fine.
The matter will next be heard Monday at 10am.
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Contempt notices issued
Rai filed an application in an ongoing suo motu case in the Allahabad High Court. The PIL was initiated by the High Court in December last year, taking note of the disruption in supply of electricity in some areas in Prayagraj.
On 6 December 2022, the court had issued notice to the Vidyut Karmchari Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, through its general secretary.
“It is expected that the power department shall ensure the supply is not disrupted, and if it is disrupted in any manner, then strict action is taken,” it had added in its 6 December order.
However, the court noted in its order passed Friday that nobody from the Samiti had appeared in the petition till now.
Rai mentioned the matter before the high court on Friday morning, and it was heard at 2pm.Rai then told the court that the order issued by it on 6 December has been “brazenly defied”.
The court took note of the resolution, which says that 27 lakh electricity workers in the state have gone on a 72-hour strike. It also noted that the protests are planned through the state, and that the workers have highlighted various demands.
The court then noted that, since the Employees’ Association has not appeared before the court, despite previous orders, “we are left with no option but to issue notices to the Employees’ Association and its office bearers for initiation of contempt proceedings against them.”
The order listed the names of at least 29 office bearers of the Vidyut Karmachari Sanyukt Sangarsh Samiti, Uttar Pradesh, who, it noted, “have actively participated in convening of the strike call”, and issued notices to initiate contempt proceedings.
Commenting on the order, Allahabad High Court advocate Abhinav Gaur told ThePrint, “The decision of disrupting electricity supply in Uttar Pradesh by the employees of the State Power Units pursuant to a letter by Vidyut Karmachari Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti Uttar Pradesh has been taken very seriously by the Allahabad High Court.”
He said the action of disrupting the electricity supply is in violation of the provisions of ESMA, and pointed out that the state government has also initiated proceedings against the erring employees under the Act.
Talking about the impact of the strike on Friday, Gaur said, “In district Prayagraj, there was supply disruption the entire day and the employees of the power department were not present in their offices and substations.”
(Edited by Richa Mishra)
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