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Monday, June 14, 2021

‘Pained at undue hurry to privatise profit-making dept during pandemic’: HC raps Chandigarh admin

The bench said the proposed action of privatization is in direct conflict with the nation's agenda of 'Sabka saath sabka vikas', since there is no reference in the reply of respondents with regard to stakeholders, who belong to lowest strata of society.

Written by Jagpreet Singh Sandhu | Chandigarh |
June 1, 2021 2:00:50 am
“we...feel that the cause of justice and humanity will be better served by keeping the operation of communication dated April 19 in abeyance, particularly when the matter is coming up for hearing on August 18,” the bench said.

In a stinging indictment of the UT administration, the Punjab and Haryana High Court said they are unable to understand its unseemly hurry to hand over the profit-making electricity wing to a private entity when the whole world is grappling with the deadly virus. The court said, “With great pain and anguish, it is recorded that we are unable to reconcile with the fact that when the whole world is grappling with the deadly virus, when there is no oxygen, no ICUs, a long queue at the cremation grounds and no place in the hospitals, the undue hurry on the part of the administration to hand over the profit making department to a private entity at this stage of the history, and in this crisis faced by the mankind, seems to be misplaced.”

The bench said the proposed action of privatization is in direct conflict with the nation’s agenda of ‘Sabka saath sabka vikas’, since there is no reference in the reply of respondents with regard to stakeholders, who belong to lowest strata of society like Scheduled Castes, Backward Classes, OBC, etc.

The division bench of Justices Jitendra Chauhan and Vivek Puri, while keeping the further proceedings in the matter on abeyance, said, “We feel that privatization is not a panacea to all the ills and privatization with the blind motive of so-called efficiency falls flat as this department is not only a profitable one but has also time and again matched the high standards of customer satisfaction, and has a big role in maintaining the City Beautiful”, said the bench.

The petitioners, UT Powermen Union, through their counsel, Senior Advocate AK Chopra, and Advocate Akshit Chaudhary, had filed an application challenging the communication dated April 19, 2021 wherein Special Secretary Engineering, UT, issued instructions to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP, Gurgaon, the Transaction Advisor appointed by UT, asserting that the process of privatisation in Chandigarh should be fast-tracked.

The Union told the Court that it moved a representation on May 3, 2021 and approached the Advisor to the Administrator and Chairman, Disaster Management Committee, Chandigarh, requesting that further proceedings in the matter of privatization be stopped, at least till the matter was finally adjudicated. The union also pointed out that all the medical and other logistic infrastructure set up by the UT administration, including its premier medical institutes such as PGIMER, GMCH-32 and GMSH-16 cannot carry out their functions without electricity supply, and the employees of the electricity department, at the risk of their lives, have been working as frontline corona warriors to ensure that medical and other institutes are provided uninterrupted electricity supply. Also without active and functional support of the electricity department employees, the fight against the disease would not have been possible. They pleaded that during this difficult phase of mankind, there ought not to have been undue hurry on the part of the administration to privatise the wing.

The Chandigarh Administration and other respondents, in their reply submitted that the apprehensions of the petitioner UT Powermen, are totally wrong and baseless and prayed for dismissal of the petition.

The division bench after hearing the matter said, “It is not clear as to what was the intended purpose of setting up the Engineering Wing, UT, and whether the Engineering Wing has failed to achieve the same. This is the positive case of the petitioner that when the department is a profit-making organization, therefore, it is not covered under the scheme ‘Atamnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ or ‘Self -Reliant India Mission’.”

“The Engineering Wing of the UT Administration is akin to Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs), which were created by the Government of India to make a self-sufficient nation and to become the master of our own destiny. While inaugurating the Bhakhra Nangal Dam in October, 1963, Prime Minister Nehru christened it as ‘the temple of modern India’. The philosophy behind establishing the same was to end India’s dependence on the rest of the world. If the argument on behalf of the respondents is to make India ‘Atamnirbhar Bharat’, we are at a loss to understand that what can be more ‘Atamnirbhar’ than an institution made in India, by Indians, operationalized by Indians, creating jobs for Indians and enriching the Indian state with its profits. We also feel that the idea of establishing such wings is an egalitarian one with the aim to include those sections of society that need a helping hand. The philosophy of inclusion, as envisaged by Dr. Ambedkar in the Preamble, also included the concept of ‘Economic Justice’. To achieve this ideal of Constitution as wished about by one of the greatest makers of this country, especially in such precarious times that we live in, it becomes imperative upon the administration to safeguard such institutions that protect the security of the livelihood. They provide a security net for the society to fall back upon, for the poorest of the poor to dream of a better future, for the person at the end of the line to be aspirational so that he too can be part of the Indian dream. All this indicates a social motive and not a profit motive”, said the bench.

The bench said that in the changed circumstances on account of the pandemic: “we…feel that the cause of justice and humanity will be better served by keeping the operation of communication dated April 19 in abeyance, particularly when the matter is coming up for hearing on August 18.”

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