December 11, 2022

'Save Power Sector, Save India' A Call for Resistance and Defiance

Sudip Dutta

JANTAR Mantar witnessed presumably the largest ever assembly of electricity employees and engineers under the banner of National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEE) on November 23, 2022. NCCOEEE is the broadest conglomeration of electricity-related federations operating throughout the country. Earlier on August 2, NCCOEEE held a national convention and called upon 2.7 million electricity employees and engineers to join the nationwide struggle to oppose the Electricity Amendment (EA) Bill on the day of its introduction in parliament. The employees responded with firm conviction. On August 8, more than one million electricity employees, engineers and pensioners came onto the streets with anger against the autocratic, deceiving move of the central government to introduce the EA Bill 2022. The anger expressed by the lightning action and the instantaneous sturdy opposition within parliament compelled the government to send the bill to the parliamentary standing committee.

From that convention, NCCOEEE had called upon the electricity workers to march to Delhi on November 23 to join the Bijli Kranti Yatra. Electricity Employees Federation of India (EEFI), being the largest constituent of NCCOEEE, took the lead. In its 9th national conference held in Chandigarh on October 13-15, EEFI adopted the call and planned a detailed road-map to mobilise its fullest strength. EEFI organisers took all the initiatives to reach each and every electricity employee with an appeal to join the rally. And the employees and engineers responded; they came in tens of thousands. They came to register their final warning to this anti-worker, anti-people, anti-national government.

Despite resistance from all corners, the BJP government is desperate to introduce this draconian EA Bill to serve their corporate masters. This is a blatant violation of the promise made by the government to the farmers of India to not introduce the bill without having any consultation with the stakeholders. To give an appropriate reply to this anti-people government, this massive rally resolved and gave a call for strike action against any further unilateral attempts by the central government to force the EA Bill upon the people of India. Also this rally upheld the demands of reinstating the old pension scheme and regularisation of all outsourced and contractual employees.

After organising state-level conventions against this bill, the workers had come to Delhi. Hundreds of local level public meetings were held earlier. They came and gathered at various points of Delhi to march towards Jantar Mantar. The rally was colourful, vibrant, jubilant and energetic. The Delhi Police restricted them at railway stations, at metro stations, and at bus terminals. Police also harassed the organising leaders and denied permission until the day before the march. But the workers were determined. They overcame all the obstacles, hindrances and gathered at Jantar Mantar. Police barricaded the place and thousands of agitators were pushed into a narrow space. The massive gathering naturally spilled onto adjacent streets and finally the police had to step back. The number and resolve of the participants failed the conspiracy of the central government-controlled Delhi Police. The workers' assembly took a note of the highhandedness of Delhi Police curtailing their democratic rights in the so-called Azaadi Ka Amrit Kaal, the 75th year of India's Independence.

Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU, Elamaram Kareem, MP, R Krishnaiah, MP,     D Raja, former MP, Hannan Mollah, representing the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, and Gaurav Maheshwari of the Aam Aadmi Party addressed the gathering, and promised to mobilise all sections of people against this EA Bill and privatisation of public electricity sector. Though parliament has referred the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2022 to the standing committee on energy for discussion, the panel has not called any meeting till date with employees or consumers, who are the biggest stakeholders of the electricity sector.

Senior leaders of NCCOEEE highlighted that through this bill, the private distribution companies will be permitted to supply electricity in their preferred large revenue generating consumer areas, whereas the existing government companies will have to comply with the universal supply obligation to ensure supply to all categories of consumers. It will result in cherry picking of consumers with “all profit to private, all burdens to state discoms”. State discoms will be forced to offer their infrastructure to their competitor private firms and the responsibility of incurring expenditure on maintenance and network development will remain with the state discoms.

Twelve state governments have already submitted their strong opposition to this bill. From this platform, NCCOEEE has appealed again to all chief ministers to strongly oppose the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2022 in the larger interests of the energy sector and electricity consumers. Undoubtedly this bill will drastically curb the states’ purview over electricity and will centralise all the authorities in the hands of the central government. The struggles and resistance of Jammu and Kashmir, Chandigarh and Puducherry people and electricity workers against the Modi government’s moves to privatise electricity sector were highly applauded in the meeting.  
NCCOEEE stressed that before introducing any new amendment in the Electricity Act 2003, it is necessary to conduct a rigorous study on the disastrous failure of privatisation of Odisha state electricity sector and the dismal fate of the private distribution franchisees spread at many regions all over the country.
To take the call of resistance and defiance to each and every corner of the country and to take the spirit of this historic rally to every consumer, EEFI has given a clarion call to reach each household. Electricity employees will hold an intensive campaign programme to sensitise the people against the bill and privatisation of the electricity public sector. They will cover the maximum possible area and households by February 28, 2023 and will make ground level preparations for the nationwide strike. NCCOEEE-EEFI called on the people to extend solidarity to the electricity workers to "Save Power Sector – Save India". This is a battle India can't afford to lose.