GUWAHATI, Feb 16 - The Assam Power Distribution Company Ltd (APDCL) is facing a severe shortage of field level technical staff with no remedy in sight at present. This situation may be attributed to the lack of clarity in the official recruitment policy of the APDCL authorities.
According to informed sources, the present manpower strength of the power utility is less than 10,000, against 16,000 it had in 2004-05. Its existing consumer base has also widened to over 55 lakh against around 11.21 lakh it had about 15 years back. The rise in consumer base is thanks to the implementation of rural electrification programme that was in a nascent stage earlier.
The situation started undergoing drastic change with the introduction of the UPA-led Union government’s flagship programme Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) in 2006. The RGGVY mandate was to cover all the villages under rural electrification. Its reduced manpower against the disproportionately expanding consumer base and distribution network, has made the power utility to desert several safety norms it used to follow earlier.
The RGGVY was rechristened as Deendayal Upadhyaya Gramya Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) during the current regime of the NDA government and the consumer base of the power utility widened to 42.92 lakh and by February this year, it crossed 55 lakh.
Thus, its consumer base and distribution network expanded five-fold, while its manpower strength got reduced by almost 50 per cent by this time, compared to 2004-05. This is due to superannuation of serving employees and non-recruitment of technical manpower, specially at the sahayak and linemen levels.
This situation has resulted in many operational difficulties, especially at the subdivision level. By this time, due to the rural electrification programme and the rise in the purchasing power of the people, the number of consumers in all the APDCL subdivisions increased exponentially and unmanageably.
As a consequence, the officers and technical staff of the APDCL subdivisions, particularly in rural areas, have to work under tremendous pressure. One sahayak or a lineman has to single-handedly handle as many as 40 to 50 distribution transformers spread over in a vast area. Thus, they are made vulnerable to insurmountable problems in crisis hours, particularly in the rainy season.
Such situations have also resulted in the increase in electrical accidents. In 2017 alone, 88 fatal electrical accidents occurred. This was the all-time high figure in this respect in Assam.
In 2018 summer, the State’s Power Minister announced that a drive to recruit around 3,700 new staff would be launched quickly. But due to red-tapism, so far, not a single recruitment has been done in grade three and four levels to which the sahayaks and the linemen belong.
In fact, a proposal was mooted to recruit around 2,000 office-cum-field assistants (meter readers, bill clerks and computer operators) and around 1,700 technical sahayaks. The recruitment was to be done on 50:50 basis of new Industrial Training Institute (ITI) passouts and APDCL’s experienced casual employees and workers.
While there are sufficient experienced casual employees in the bill clerk, meter reader and computer operator categories, there is a significant shortage in the experienced casual worker category for the posts of sahayaks. Only 275 experienced casual workers are entitled to apply against the over 800 posts of sahayaks. For, the APDCL authorities are insisting on the records of payment continuously for five years as proof of experience of these candidates.
In fact, there is a huge pool of casual workers engaged as APDCL sahayaks for many years. But, they are devoid of any record of payment against their services continuously for five years. Their services are virtually crucial for the APDCL field subdivisions in remote areas. Most of the time, they are paid lump sum amounts by the subdivisional electrical officers or other officials of the subdivisions on their own.
Lamentably, the APDCL is not even able to issue admit cards to the experienced casual employees and technical sahayaks found eligible to appear in the February 17, 2019 selection tests.