January 08, 2023

Maharashtra Electricity Workers on Mahasangram against Adani Group

Sudip Dutta

THE Maharashtra state government has been forced to bow down to the united will of the heroic striking electricity workers. Under immense pressure from all corners, the deputy chief minister and energy minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis has publicly promised to roll-back the proposed granting of parallel license for electricity distribution to Adani Group. The arrogant government practically surrendered to the striking workers; once again strike emerged as the most effective weapon of the working class.

More than 86,000 workers and employees of Maharashtra State Public Electricity Companies were in a 72-hour strike from January 4. The entire Maharashtra electricity sector came under the grip of this strike. This strike action was not abrupt, but is a culmination of two month long united protest-struggle of Maharashtra electricity employees against the heinous plot of introducing the Adani Group in the distribution service of Navi Mumbai’s Bhandup Circle. Instead of paying any heed to the peoples’ demand, the Maharashtra government had maliciously invoked the draconian MESM Act 2017 to break the strikers, but it resulted in 100 per cent strike action throughout the state!

This strike was called by the united forum of all 32 trade unions representing the workers and employees of Mahavitaran – a conglomeration of Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited, Maharashtra State Power Generation Company Limited and Maharashtra State Electricity Transmission Company Limited. A number of public forums and associations representing the electricity consumers also actively supported this strike. During the preparatory course of this struggle, extensive door-to-door campaign with a series of public awareness programmes was held. These interactions captured the resisting mood of the people in real sense and emboldened the strikers with confidence and determination in a great way.

The protesters have been in continuous struggle for more than two months. The foundation of the movement was very systematic and meticulously planned. Preparatory joint meetings were held in Panvel, Nasik and Mumbai in the month of November. A series of agitation programmes starting from a pen-down strike to repeated demonstrations of state-wide protests by thousands of employees in front of the offices of Mahavitaran in Bhandup, Thane, Mulund, Panvel, Taloja, Uran, Navi Mumbai and many more places were observed. As a unique and creative form of protest, the united forum gave a call to return the mobile phone SIM cards given by the company exhibiting non-cooperation with the deaf management.

On December 23, more than 35,000 permanent and contractual Maharashtra state electricity workers took to streets and marched towards the Nagpur Legislative Assembly to restrain the government from this nefarious act. Police blocked the peaceful march. Certainly, there was no option left for the struggling workers except for going on strike to save the Maharashtra State Public Electricity Sector from the claws of Adani! 

More strikingly the Torrent power has also applied for parallel licenses at Kalyan, Vasai, Pune, Nagpur, Pimpari Chinchwad Ministry Corporation and also a big Chakan MIDC near Pune. Tata Power has submitted an Expression of Interest (EoI) to the Government of Maharashtra for taking over the electricity distribution of Aurangabad, Jalna and Beed on PPP basis. More than 50 per cent of the total electricity revenue earning of Maharashtra comes from these areas in MSEDCL. The whole Maharashtra State Public Electricity system is under heinous attack from all corners. 

But the vigilant electricity workers are taking the challenge; they are on the street with indomitable spirit. A 10,000-strong workers’ march ceased the city of Thane on the very first working day of this New Year, the January 2, 2023. They have given the final warning to the government to pull its hand out from this disastrous anti-people plan. 

Certainly, one should keep in mind how nakedly money power was used to topple the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government and this gift-over is nothing but a quid pro quo to the corporate masters by the ruling Party and its allies. In its written objection submitted to MERC, the Maharashtra Rajya Swabimani Vidyut Workers’ Union, an affiliate of EEFI and CITU, has categorically mentioned that the petitioner - Adani Electricity Navi Mumbai Ltd. is a paper company with no experience in distribution. But still the electricity workers of Maharashtra are in real fear that by maliciously invoking the draconian Section 14 of the Electricity Act 2003, the MERC may grant parallel license to the Adani Group to amass profit from these cherry-picked areas.

This blatant hand-over of public electricity service to Adani will adversely impact 2.8 crore consumers of the state especially the below poverty line consumers with an average consumption of below 100 units, agricultural pumps, public street lights, water supply, government offices, etc. Remarkably the comparative average tariff of Adani Electricity Ltd. is much higher than Maharashtra State Supply. 

Once again it is important to take a serious note that the new Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2022 will more profoundly legitimise and accelerate this disastrous parallel licensing process by providing open access of State DISCOM’s network to other private players. Another blow to this process is the CERC (Connectivity and General Network Access to the Inter-State Transmission System) Regulations, 2022 (GNA Regulations) issued by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) on June 7, 2022. The new GNA regulations are sinfully planned to establish the Open Access (OA) mechanism over the whole network system, obviously to facilitate giant private players like Adani, Torrent or TATA.

Electricity Employees Federation of India (EEFI) has effectively mobilised its apex National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees & Engineers (NCCOEEE) to extend its full active support to this strike action. Around two million electricity workers all across the country came onto the streets in solidarity and support to the striking Maharashtra workers. The Petroleum workers expressed their solidarity. Petroleum and Gas Workers Federation of India (PGWFI) threatened about the possible united action of the energy sector – Petroleum-Electricity-Coal workers if the Maharashtra government remains adamant and vindictive. The government finally stepped back.

This magnificent victory of the striking Maharashtra electricity workers is an inspiring moment. The determined valiant struggle of the electricity workers underlines the important role that the strategic sectors in the production system can play in fighting the authoritative powers.