Blackout on B‘luru streets as union calls strike

BENGALURU: Several roads in India’s IT capital were plunged into darkness on Wednesday evening, inconveniencing citizens and endangering the safety of women. Lakhs of street lights remained switched off during the peak hours as electrical contractors of BBMP launched an indefinite strike over dues pending for over 18 months.

Later, following a meeting with mayor R Sampath Raj, the Vidyut Guttigedara Sangha (electrical contractors union) agreed to switch the lights on and off but refused to carry out maintenance work or repairs till their dues are paid. Bengaluru was the first city in Asia to get electrified street lights in 1905. Currently, the city has around 4.8 lakh street lights.

BBMP gets 42 plaints in less than 3 hours

We told them that we would make 50% of the payment by Thursday, and the rest after getting approval during the council meeting on Friday. After the meeting on Wednesday night, they said they would switch on the lights but refused to do any maintenance,” the mayor said.

As negotiations were on between BBMP officials and contractors, several streets in the city turned black stretches with no one turning up to switch on the lights. BBMP officials said the lights are usually switched on at 6.30pm but on Wednesday, they came on only after 9pm due to the agitation. In the span of twoand-a-half hours, the BBMP control room received 42 complaints from citizens who said it was pitch dark in their neighbourhoods, making it difficult for residents, especially women and children, to move about.

“The street lights usually come on at 6.30pm but on Wednesday evening, they did not come on in Banashankari second stage,” rued Ravindranath Guru, a resident. “In MC Layout of Vijayanagar, the street lights were off on 16th, 17th and 18th cross. I thought it might have been a power cut,” said B Veeresha, a resident.

Resident welfare associations in several areas, including Vasanth Nagar, Indiranagar, Vijayanagar and Koramangala, complained of darkness and inconvenience especially to those returning home from work.

The contractors said they have been putting up with delays in payments for long. “We have done work worth Rs 45 crore even though our work orders were for Rs 30 crore. Additionally, we have also paid 12% GST from our own pockets on the materials purchased. We are under a lot of stress so we are demanding that they at least release the money for one year’s work” said KM Raju, general secretary of the association.

BBMP had earlier decided to replace all the city’s street lights with LED bulbs in an attempt to bring down the electricity and maintenance bills but the project didn’t take off.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of contractors gathered at the BBMP head office, with 100-odd street light maintenance vehicles lining the streets outside.

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