The Tentative Telangana Truce

Pic: Telanganites participating in the recent Rail Roko

By Kingshuk Nag [Editor, Times of India]

After two months of rain, power cuts are back. This time due to Telangana,” posted Suresh Hariharan of Kottayam on his Facebook profile on October 18. A day earlier, Pune-based Mitali Madhusmita called up her sister in Hyderabad and complained , “All because of you folks, there’s no electricity in Pune too.”

Coal mines in Singareni Collieries in Telangana is used by many thermal power projects in south India. But production has come down to a trickle in the last one month after Telangana activists spurred an indefinite general strike in the region.

First there were cuts in Andhra Pradesh – from one to four hours in Hyderabad but which extended to 12 hours in villages in both Telangana and Andhra areas. Now it has spread to neighbouring regions. Early last week as the government began to take action against the miners and succeeded in getting some back to work, the agitators took a different course of action. Fish plates in rail tracks were found removed at a place just before a goods train carrying coal was to pass through.

Although shops and commercial establishments, including petrol pumps, are still open in Telangana (including Hyderabad ), life has otherwise been thrown out of gear. “In courts, the lower staff is not working, so no accused can be produced for remand orders and no marriages can be registered. It’s a merry mess out here,” said Kishore Chand, a lawyer.

What is worse is that inter state borders are not being manned and no octroi is being collected because there is no one to collect it. Anything and everything can be slipped in through the borders. On October 12, the power department issued a press release advising customers that no bill would be issued this month and that they could pay using a copy of last month’s bill. Whether any customer would do so is a moot point, and even if they did , whether any staff will be there to receive the payment remains to be seen.

Lower staff in all government departments is on strike and in many places even uniformed staff of forest and excise departments can be seen raising slogans for a separate state. Employees of the AP State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) have struck work and although the strike has been officially called off, in most places in the 10 districts of Telangana buses were not plying.

Schools were closed for Dussehra ahead of the actual celebrations because the activists would not allow them to function . Now they have reopened but fed up with the state of affairs, parents have formed an association and have demanded that education be treated as an essential service for purposes of law enforcement and those disrupting schools and colleges be packed off to jail. This had a salutary effect on leaders of the Telangana agitation.

Media savvy parents may have been able to get their way but not farmers who are the most affected. Dependent on free power for pumping water into their fields, a power shutdown means there is no water to irrigate crops in this kharif season, both in Telangana and Andhra areas. Crops are withering away. Also, daily wagers in industry are affected as they aren’t getting paid by the factories they work in.

The sentiment for Telangana runs so deep that moneylenders are often dishing out loans to the needy free of interest. In some cases, house owners, too, have let go of their rents knowing their tenants haven’t got wages and aren’t in a position to pay.

An indefinite strike of this kind with all government services disrupted cannot go on permanently . Thirty-five days after it was launched, the general strike is now coming to an end. With Diwali close at hand, workers have realized they cannot carry on without wages. The strike, though, was called off only after the government promised wages even for the period that saw no work from the employees . Since there is a high court ruling that employees cannot be given wages for no work, the government will extend a loan equivalent to the salary and seek amendment of the order from the court.

Many, of course, see that at most as a temporary truce. The agitation is bound to be relaunched in another few weeks, possibly around Christmas, those watching the developments here say, recalling how even some 60 years after the state was formed, there continued to be all-round exploitation of those in the Telangana region .

What is worse is that after the central government announced officially on December 9, 2009 that it would grant Telangana , it has gone back on its word. This was after pressure from the big business lobby that has made huge investments in Hyderabad and is not willing to part with the city.

But the 3.5 crore population of Telangana, miffed at the “betrayal” , is in no mood to relent.

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