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Deep disquiet as furnace at Bathinda thermal plant set to go shutdown

Death at 44: 600 jobs on contract are on the line due to govt decision to close the Bathinda thermal plant from January 1; employees continue stir, despite govt assurance

punjab Updated: Dec 24, 2017 09:43 IST
Prabhjit Singh
Employees of Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Plant and other unions protesting opposite the office of Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal in Bathinda on Saturday.
Employees of Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Plant and other unions protesting opposite the office of Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal in Bathinda on Saturday.(Sanjeev Kumar/HT)

The Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Power Plant ran for three days without a break to power the Asian Games of 1982, old-timers at the plant remember. Now, with the state Cabinet announcement that the plant will shut down on January 1, 2018, life will never be the same for thousands whose lives intertwine with the functioning of the plant.

Signs of closure visible in 2015
  • 1969: The then chief minister justice (retd) Gurnam Singh laid the foundation stone
  • 1973-74: First two units of 110 MW each commissioned
  • 1978-79: 3rd and 4th units of 110 MW each commissioned
  • 2004-07: First two units renovated at Rs 270 crore
  • 2010-2014: Third and 4th units renovated at Rs 445 crore
  • 2015: The plant load factor (generation as % of the total capacity) brought down to 34%
  • December 20, 2017: Punjab cabinet decides to close down the project with effect from January 1, 2018.

Hundreds of employees, especially 600 on contract, fear losing their jobs.

For each job lost, there will be ‘collateral loss’ of jobs of domestic helps, grocers, vendors and other service providers. The plant, where the first two units were commissioned in the early 1970s, brought employment and boosted economy for over four decades.

Now, the narrative is set to change.

‘I shifted 300km, was it for this?’

The government has labeled the plant as unviable, saying it can buy power from other states at cheaper rates. However, protesters accuse the government of bluffing. The disquiet is deep. Jagwant Singh, 25, a helper at the plant, shifted to Bathinda in 2013 from Mukerian in Hoshiarpur district. On contract, he had hopes of regularisation. That never happened.

“I shifted 300km. Now, I will be out of a job,” he said. Sukhwinder Singh, 53, another helper, who joined on contract 15 years ago, is still not regularised, drawing Rs 8,500 a month.

‘No intimation from govt on contract jobs’

To arrange staff for these odd-end jobs, the PSPCL signs a deal with contractors on an annual basis. The five contractors facilitating the plant are worried about the loss of income, if these jobs are cut. The contractors receive salaries of workers and distribute it further.

The plant, where the first two units were commissioned in the early 1970s, brought employment and boosted economy for more than four decades. Now, the narrative is set to change. (HT Photo)

“There has been no intimation from either the government or the PSPCL on the fate of such employees,” said contractor Baljit Singh Brar, who has the charge of nearly 100 workers.

Three lakes will also go

Three lakes, spread over 150 acres, are also part of sprawling 2,200 acres of the plant. Former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had announced that the government would link lake numbers 2 and 3 to introduce house boats to boost tourism. The project did not materialise.

‘Orders to shift 100 regular employees in’

When contacted, GNDTP general manager VK Garg, said there had ‘no official communication’ regarding the cabinet decision on December 20 to shut the plant. He acknowledged receiving orders to shift 100 regular employees to the nearby Lehra thermal power plant ‘as per manpower demand there’.

HC notice to state; Jan 19 next hearing
  • The Punjab and Haryana high court has issued a notice to the Punjab government and the PSPCL to file its reply to a petition that has sought the revival of the plant. The state is to reply by January 19, 2018, the next date of hearing in the case. The petition had also sought a CBI inquiry into power purchase agreements that the PSPCL had signed with private players in the power sector.

No retrenchment of any staff: govt

Principal secretary, power, A Venu Prasad said, “No retrenchment of any staff will take place. We are in the process of transferring regular employees to the distribution wing of the PSPCL. Nothing has been decided on the assets of the plant.”

Wistful look back

At the Kothe Amanpura village, a 59-year-old employee, Gurmej Singh, who has a few months to retirement, says, “I remained beneath a furnace in this plant for three days during the 1982 Asian Games. The order was that the power supply should not drop,” he says. His colleague Ranjit Singh, who retired three years ago, says the plant was routinely ranked the best in the public sector. Ranjit hailed from Ferozepur and Gurmej from Gurdaspur. In its heydays, the plant acted as a magnet for families from Majha and Doaba.

Protest outside Manpreet’s office; cancels programme in city

Employees protested against the closure of the plant outside the office of state finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Saturday. They blocked the road opposite his office throughout the day. The minister cancelled his scheduled programme at a private school. His media in-charge said the programme was cancelled as the minister was not keeping well. The SAD has announced a protest against the closure on December 25.