The recent stir by the pro-Left unions in the Kerala State Electricity Board Limited was against a few decisions and disclosures of Chairman B Ashok. In his controversial Facebook post he made serious allegations against the union leaders and cited many irregularities in the KSEB that occurred during the time of the previous Pinarayi Vijayan Government.
Skeletons tumbled out of the closet one by one after Ashok's Facebook came out in public. It all dealt with the high-handedness of KSEB unions, how they used to intervene in the normal functioning of the board and how they used to keep former chairmen on tenterhooks. Besides, high overhead expenses and wasteful expenditure in the board put an additional burden on the common man in the form of exorbitant power tariff.
Ashok has opened a Pandora's Box through his Facebook post by pointing out some past irregularities in the KSEB. Many stories of corruption and irregularities have now come out from the KSEB headquarters.
How officers' association call the shots
Transactions to the tune of Rs 6,000 crore are occurring in the KSEB on a yearly basis. The unions have a say in all the matters having a financial stake.
It is an unwritten rule that nothing will happen there bypassing the interest of "OA". OA means officers' association. OA's main leader is literally a king inside the board. OA representatives have the privilege to gatecrash any important board meetings at its headquarters. Recently, OA representatives attended a meeting convened by a director.
A union leader, who didn't like the decision taken by the Director having the rank of chief engineer, insulted him publicly at the meeting. The leader, who is just an assistant executive engineer, called the chief engineer by his name before prefixing with the disrespectful Malayalam word "edo". He also asked the chief engineer to remain mum. The director in deep disgust went out of the room.
The KSEB chairman, who came to know about the incident, gave a show cause notice to the OA leader. Then, pressure was on the chairman to withdraw the notice. The chairman said that the notice could be withdrawn only if the leader tendered an apology. The union took up cudgel against the chairman for asking for an apology from a person who was the Additional Private Secretary to a minister. The notice still remains in force. It was not the first time that a KSEB chairman faced the wrath of union leaders. The chairman, who preceded Ashok, was forced to relinquish his post though he tried his best to buy peace with the union leaders in the beginning.
The former chairman NS Pillai had to vacate his office 17 days before the end of his tenure due to the intimidation by a main union leader. Pillai had both qualification and caliber in running the board. When he was working as Accountant General in Chhattisgarh in 2015, he was appointed the Finance Director of the KSEB. During the previous Pinarayi Ministry, as the chairman, he went along well with the unions in the beginning. But later the main union leader fell out with the chairman and started keeping him on tenterhooks. He was successful in transferring a member of the chairman's personal staff from his post. The decision of the chairman to retain senior superintendent Saju Kumar as legal advisor was thwarted by the union leader by ensuring his transfer from there. The reason was that Saju Kumar was a Congressman. The then Electricity Minister MM Mani called Pillai for having conciliation talks with the union leader. But Pillai resigned from the chairman's post by saying that he didn't want to hold conciliatory talk with the union leader.
Most KSEB employees, including engineers, are efficient and want the board to function properly. They dislike strikes. But since they are all members of the OA, they will have to follow what their leaders say. They will have to join slogan-shouting. Otherwise, they will face the music. The organisation's main strength is the crores of rupees it collects from the employees when they get grade promotion and salary hike. Using this money, they keep their parent political party and its leaders in good humour.
How unions bleed the board
There are drivers in the KSEB drawing more than Rs.80,000 as salary. Assistant executive and executive engineers draw an average salary above Rs 1.5 lakh where as the salary of chief engineers goes above Rs 2.5 lakh ceiling. The maximum salary in the chief engineer scale is further high. Though the salary scale of the government is at par with the KSEB in the early part of an employee's career, the salary of the KSEB employees increases substantially in the subsequent years due to grade promotion and yearly increment bestowed upon the employees due to pressure put up by the unions. Even the line helper for whom the minimum qualification is SSLC failed gets Rs 35,000 as salary.
Even after drawing such a high salary, some employees use the contract workers to do their job. Some lineman give a portion of their salary to the contract workers in lieu of doing the maintenance job in the line. In the case of a union leader, he has to just sign in the attendance register. He doesn't have to do any job. Grade promotion and salary hike will come to him automatically.
The accumulated loss of the KSEB is pegged at Rs 14,000 crore. This includes an amount of Rs 3,200 crore, which is to be recovered from high-end consumers. The experts say that the additional burden on consumers can be reduced substantially if the wasteful expenditure is reduced.
Consumers bear the brunt
The KSEB unions do not take any steps to put an end to the wasteful expenditure and high administrative cost incurred by the board. But the huge liability of the board arising out of the two salary revisions implemented without the concurrence of the government is still being blindly passed on to the ordinary consumers by way of intermittent power tariff hike. This all happens due to high overhead expenses in the board. In India, the KSEB's power has the highest production cost.
The production cost of one unit of power in India is 50 paise. But in Kerala it is Rs 2. Even if you argue that the transmission and distribution costs are high in Kerala compared to other States, the present slab of power tariff is not affordable to the common man. A report on how to reduce power tariff by reducing expenses and by making administration efficient is safely kept inside the cupboard of the chairman's cabin. The union leaders will not allow it to be taken outside.
Political one-upmanship too
When one coalition is in power in the State, the unions of the Opposition parties will become more vibrant than the real Opposition in the Assembly. They will not allow the board chairman to transact any major business. They will not allow any new projects to be implemented. Projects will be allowed only when the union is part of the ruling dispensation. Otherwise, attempts will be made to torpedo projects even if it is a power generation project. First, they will come out with a leaflet against the project. Then comes allegations of corruption and agitations.
During the time of the last United Democratic Front Government, there was a proposal to start a thermal power station in Cheemeni in Kasaragod district. But the then opposition Left Democratic Front and its unions strongly opposed the move and brought out a leaflet, terming it as a money heist. Then, the board backed out from the move. The unions also scuttled the move by the board to start a power museum in Munnar as part of tourism development. The attitude is that only their government is supposed to bring development. But when their government comes to power, only projects in which the unions have selfish interest will be implemented. Such a tourism project in Idukki is under scrutiny after KSEB chairman's disclosure.