There seems to be no immediate end in sight to the administrative crisis that has gripped Kerala State Electricity Board Limited.
At the conciliatory talks held by Power Minister K Krishnankutty in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday, there was consensus on the need for a quick resolution of the seemingly intractable Board-officers rift. However, betraying signs of how difficult this would be, both the sides - KSEB chairman and managing director B Ashok and the agitating officers under the Kerala State Electricity Board Officers' Association (KSEBOA) - stuck resolutely to their stated positions.
After hearing both sides for nearly an hour, the minister told the full board of the KSEB to come up with a truce formula without delay and prejudice and on the basis of established rules. Krishnankutty gave the Board a week to evolve a compromise formula.
Later, he told the media that both the Board and the agitating employees would willingly make compromises for the smooth functioning of the public utility. The KSEBOA, however, said that they would go ahead with their agitation plans.
Here are the three major demands put forward by the KSEBOA, a CITU-affiliated union that represents more than 70% of managerial level officers at KSEB: One, withdraw all retaliatory measures taken against agitating employees and also desist from initiating any disciplinary action in the name of the ongoing agitation. Two, revoke the suspension of the three leaders of KSEBOA (executive engineer Jasmine Banu, KSEBOA president M G Suresh Kumar and general secretary Harikumar) and restore them to their old posts.
Three, the CMD should apologise for his "misogynist" remarks. (The KSEBOA has alleged that the CMD had ridiculed Jasmine Banu who had returned from a solo trip to the North East by asking her to extend her leave and visit Andaman and Nicobar Islands, too. The KSEBOA contention is that it was a loaded comment made against a woman who dared to travel alone. Further, the CMD had alleged that union leaders were using women employees to trap senior KSEB officers. This, the KSEBOA considers an insult to woman employees and wants the CMD to apologise.)
According to sources, the Board might decide to drop any punitive measures, like the blocking of promotions and the application of dies non, against employees who had struck work as part of the agitation. Fact is, the suspension of the three engineers had already been revoked but it is said that the CMD would not agree to restore them in their old posts.
At the conciliatory meeting on Wednesday, the CMD, Ashok, told the minister that it would be against rules to bring the three back to their old posts as an enquiry had already been initiated against them. His argument is that the enquiry is done by junior officers in their old divisions and the return of these seniors could affect the fairness of the probe.
The simmering CMD-Officers rift erupted during the all-India trade union strike on March 28 and 29. The CMD had declared that dies non would be slapped on employees who did not report for duty on the two days. Defying the CMD's diktat, nearly 80% of the workers kept away from work on these two days.
The CMD then suspended Jasmine Banu, a KSEBOA leader and the executive engineer of Thiruvananthapuram Electrical Division. She was on leave till March 27 and was supposed to join on March 28. Instead, she joined the strike on March 28 and 29. The action against her was not for taking part in the strike, but for “unauthorised absence” in the previous days.
Jasmine Banu then argued that she had informed her superior of her travel to the North East and handed over charge to another officer. She said both the officer and herself had signed the certificate of transfer of charge (CTC) and the only mistake on her part was that the CTC had reached the deputy chief engineer only after she left. Since her responsibilities were properly handed over, Jasmine said that the functioning of the Board was not affected.
The CMD, however, was not impressed, triggering a spate of protests, suspensions and more protests.