Working conditions: How many KESC linemen does it take to bust a kunda?

Spooked team try to tackle complaints under threat of union attacks.


Salman Siddiqui June 21, 2011

KARACHI:


The ground teams of the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) are working under pressure of attacks by labour unions and have limited their operations to areas under the control of a powerful political party in the city.


This was revealed in a special visit arranged by the KESC for The Express Tribune, which was allowed to embed its team members on board one of their trucks operating in Korangi area.

The first stop was at the Postal and Telegraph (P&T) Colony in Korangi, where because of a broken wire, electricity had been cut off to an entire street.

KESC operates dozens of vehicles at any time of the day to address consumer complaints, most of which cater to broken electrical wires and faults in transformers. Each truck has about four people, including the supervisor, linemen, worker and driver. However because of the union strike, a large number of people have stopped reporting for work, causing massive problems for the staff on the ground, says Atiq, the manager for operations in Korangi.

However, since the grade-level officers such as supervisors and managers are not part of the strike, they are reporting to work in their respective areas. For the other staffers, KESC is making use of its contractual employees and daily wagers to get the job done. Spokesperson Aminur Rahman says that the company is doing its best to address all consumer complaints despite the challenging conditions.

According to the ground staff at P&T, they are always watching their backs. Supervisor Jamal, who reports to work every day from Mehmoodabad, says his team comes under attack whenever they venture into the Korangi Industrial area. He thanked the driver of his truck for saving the lives of the team three times in a row. “Once the union workers tried to trap us and besieged our truck at the corner of a street, but luckily we escaped unharmed,” he said.

Manager Atiq claims that his name along with those of his team are on a ‘hit list’ of the union workers. “They even note the cars we move around in and try their best to target us,” he said.

At Allah Wala town in Korangi area, a stray dog lay dead next to a broken wire. The poor neighbourhood, built by a businessmen from the Delhi Saudagaran community, Abdul Khaliq, was defined by crumbling roads and the widespread use of kunda or illegal power connections. Tangled bunches of wires hooked up to pole after pole stretched as far as the eye could see.

The supervisor for Allah Wala town, Tanzeel, says the illegal kunda connections are the biggest problem. “Apart from the massive load, the weight of the connections snaps the wires,” he says, adding that on any given day, he takes care of at least five such complaints.

An elderly Mai Asma ran towards Tanzeel as soon as she saw the KESC truck appear the area. She complained that despite three days, no one came to repair the broken wire. According to Asma, because of the kunda connections, legitimate users like her, who have a KESC meter, have been suffering. “I haven’t had electricity in three days, even though I pay the entire bill,” she said. Supervisor Tanzeel said it was difficult to take action against illegal connections without a massive campaign backed up by the law enforcement authorities. Spokesperson Amin said apart from threats to the ground staff, the company routinely faces acts of sabotage. “Our underground cables have been destroyed in some instances when the union workers drilled holes into them,” he said.

Union leader Latif Mughal has, however, denied that any of their workers were involved in sabotage. He said that KESC’s management was doing its best to malign the ‘legitimate’ concerns of their workers. “They are all liars,” he said.

At P&T Colony, a lineman perched himself on top of a pole and urged his two co-workers waiting on the ground to haul down the snapped wires with the help of a rope.

Like a tug of war, on one side were the workers, while at the other end was a dangerous live wire. Supervisor Jamal on a building next to the pole, told his men to pull harder. “Shabash beta [well done],” he said. It’s not as simple as it looks, he added. After careful placement, they fixed the damaged line.

At the Allah Wala town, supervisor Tanzeel informed Manager Atiq that a wire on another side of the street had been stolen. “This is also one of the main problems. The wires snap and fall on the ground. And the next day when we arrive, we discover that it has disappeared,” he said, “God knows what they do with them.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2011.

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