THE CITIZEN BUREAU
LUCKNOW: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath seems to have distanced himself from the accident in Rae Bareilly’s National Thermal Power Corporation by not visiting the spot, with fingers in Lucknow now pointing directly at New Delhi, and more specifically the Prime Minister’s Office for the tragedy.
All procedural norms were scrapped at the direct instance of the Prime Minister’s Office in January 2016 to appoint Gurdeep Singh, then head of Gujarat State Electricity Corp, as the Chairman and Managing Director of NTPC Ltd. He earned the distinction of being the first person to be appointed to the top job of a Maharatna company through a search committee route.
Normally such selections are made by the Public Enterprise Selection Board but in this case a Selection Committee headed by PESB chairman at the time Ajit Seth interviewed a shortlist of eight candidates from reportedly 24 applicants. Gurdeep Singh was then ‘approved’ as NTPC head by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sources took care to inform reporters at the time, “PM Modi himself picked up Gurdeep Singh because he wants to put the power sector on track as part of his ambitious plan to electrify all villages.”
PM Modi had decided not to continue the term of former NTPC chief Arun Roy Choudhury as he was an appointee of the UPA government. His extension was to end in December 2016. Instead a search committee was constituted to finalise the Gujarat official’s appointment.
NTPC is under rapid expansion, with the Prime Minister himself laying foundation stones for new projects under this public sector unit. The sixth unit of the NTPC at Unchahar, according to reports reaching Lucknow, was commissioned by PM Modi and was moving full speed ahead to complete this within the time frame set for mid November. Trade union leaders maintain that warning of malfunction were ignored, that the boiler should have been shut down, and the problem rectified.
The result is the large scale loss of lives, with 39 dead and over a 100 injured, several critically so. Tragically, most of those impacted were daily labourers—with about 300 reported to have been working at the site to complete the project—who do not have access to the compensation and medical relief that regular employees do. The state government has announced Rs two lakhs for those killed as has the Prime Minister, with Rs 50,000 for those injured.
The corridors of power in Lucknow are abuzz with rumours —that have also found their way into sections of the media—that safety precautions were not taken because of pressure to complete the project. The CM, interestingly, has not even visited the spot and is maintaining silence on the tragedy in Rae Bareilly—Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s constituency—allowing the centre to handle it to the point of flying critical victims to Delhi in an Air Force plant in a bid to reduce the death toll.
Gurdeep Singh has kept his brief interaction with the media since limited to the logistics of medical care. A probe has reportedly been ordered into the incident that literally burnt the workers alive.
PM Modi tweeted his concern about the tragedy. Adityanath was in Mauritius at the time. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was the only one to rush to the spot and meet the families and the workers. He has asked for a judicial probe into the accident.