KSEB CMD's fight with Left unions snowballing into a major political crisis

KSEB CMD's fight with Left unions snowballing into a major political crisis
KSEB workers protesting against CMD B Ashok.

The growing hostility between the Left-affiliated Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) unions and the Board chairman and managing director, B Ashok, ever since Janata Dal's K Krishnankutty took over as power minister from CPM's M M Mani has finally resulted in a politically damning outburst by the CMD.

In a long and scathing Facebook post on February 14, the KSEB CMD spoke of the stranglehold of the unions and gave examples of decisions, loaded with heavy financial implications, taken without the approval of the full board of the KSEB, mostly during the first Pinarayi ministry.

Former Power Minister M M Mani was quick to take offence and wanted to know whether the CMD had made such remarks with the knowledge of the incumbent minister. Krishnankutty said the CMD's post did not have his sanction, and Ashok, too, in an attempt to mollify Mani, said he had no intention of accusing the former minister.

Nonetheless, the CMD's post was a searing critique of the functioning of the Left unions. What Ashok left unsaid, but had made amply clear, was the political patronage these union leaders enjoyed.

Significantly, the CMD put up his post on February 14, the day a spate of mostly Left-affiliated unions began a indefinite strike against the CMD's reforms in front of the Vydhythi Bhavan, the KSEB headquarters.

In fact, Ashok prefaced his outburst as a response to a Facebook post written by M G Suresh Kumar, the president of the CPM-affiliated KSEB Officers' Association, a union at the forefront of the agitation. Suresh Kumar was highly critical of the KSEB's decision to deploy the State Industrial Security Force (SISF) in various KSEB offices, including its headquarters at Pattom, Thiruvananthapuram. Instead of wasting scarce resources on the SISF, Suresh Kumar had said that the Board should concentrate on developing the core strengths of the public utility.

Ashok said the decision to deploy the SISF was taken on the basis of a diktat handed down by the central Intelligence Bureau, and was under consideration since January 2017. He also said the SISF protection was required at the Vydhythi Bhavan not because it had any costly machinery but because it was a place where the real-time data of the entire KSEB network was stored.

"This is a time when gangs operating outside Kerala swindle money from bank accounts in Kerala by pilfering customer details from the bank's software," he said. "Most of the KSEB's software, all of them developed internally, do not possess the necessary security features," the CMD said.

Further, Ashok said that the offices in the headquarters were so open that anyone could walk in and steal sensitive information from the data ports. "The investigation wing has confidential commercial information about the tenders that KSEB would be floating," he said. Ashok hinted that, without any surveillance mechanisms, such critical information was being leaked out by unscrupulous senior KSEB engineers.

"A contractor had once told me the details of a tender shared with him by the concerned engineer even before the KSEB floated the tender. I have proof of this," Ashok said.

However, the CMD's most serious charges related to the arm-twisting tactics adopted by the Left unions to push through decisions that would heap serious financial burden on the public utility. He said there were instances when union leaders had threatened officials to sign on files after inserting clauses that were against rules and procedures.

Here are some of Ashok's charges. One, 90 officers were given a "whatsapp appointment" without informing the full board or the CMD and the annual outgo on them of Rs 12 crore was included in the Board's recurring expenses.

Two, 6000 of the 33,000 KSEB employees have not secured the approval of the State Electricity Regulatory Commission.

Three, KSEB took on a liability of Rs 1200 as pay revision expenses in February 2021 in complete violation of the condition that such pay reforms should have prior government approval.

Four, an assistant executive engineer who was not entitled to use an official car had logged over 1000 kms for his personal use. Five, a junior chief executive engineer had given hundreds of acres of KSEB land for commercial lease without securing the approval of the KSEB full board or the government.

Six, land was also handed over to various societies in the name of tourism development without getting the full board's or government's approval.

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