July 23, 2023
CITU Holds National Convention against Privatisation of Electricity and Railways

Arka Rajpandit

THE national convention against Privatisation of electricity and railways organised by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has decided to go for protracted campaign and struggles engaging common consumers/commuters/ people to put up an effective resistance to the privatisation spree of the ruling dispensation, which is a part of its neoliberal agenda. The convention gave a clarion call to develop a strong country-wide movement against privatisation of electricity and railways and mobilise workers and the people in general and the consumers/commuters in particular to fight these disastrous policies. It called upon all sections of people and their organisations to join this campaign and struggle.

The national convention against privatisation of electricity and railways was held on July 18, 2023 at Harkishan Singh Surjeet Bhawan in New Delhi. The convention was presided over by K Hemalata, president, CITU. A note of discussion on electricity was placed by Sudip Datta, secretary, CITU and a note on railways was placed by K Hemalata. Tapan Sen, general secretary, CITU placed the draft declaration of the convention and the programme of actions.

The note on privatisation emphasized the risk of establishing monopoly control over consumers through the market. Amendments to the Electricity Act, 2003, have been proposed for the fifth time since 2014. The central government's preferred approach, termed 'unbundling,' is essentially a move towards privatising the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. The government aims to dismantle state-owned distribution companies, handing over the entire public asset to private players, both domestic and foreign. If the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022 is passed, private distributors will not have to invest in creating their own distribution infrastructure to obtain a parallel license for electricity distribution. State DISCOMs will be compelled to offer their infrastructure to their competitors, while still bearing the responsibility of incurring expenses for maintenance, losses, and network development.

Placing the note on privatisation of electricity, Sudip Datta highlighted the serious danger of implementing the Market-Based Economic Dispatch (MBED) programme and the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) with a clear intention of selling state-owned distribution companies to private monopoly capital. The RDSS poses a significant threat as it aims to shift the entire burden of the accumulated debt of the electricity sector onto the state distribution utilities, state governments, and all consumers, which could result in a significant reduction of access to electricity in rural India.

The note on the privatisation of railways discussed the dangerous consequences of unbundling the Indian Railways and separating the roles of policy, production, regulation, and operation to promote privatisation, which is the core strategy of the ruling class. This approach could have disastrous consequences for the nation as it may disrupt the synergy required for the proper and safe functioning of such a vast railway network. Passenger and employee safety could be compromised, putting their lives at risk.

The note also raised concerns about the privatisation of railway stations under the pretext of developing 'world-class' stations. The government established the Indian Railway Station Development Corporation (IRSDC) for this purpose. Entire stations, along with the railway land around them, are handed over to private companies and the IRSDC for development. Hemalata, while placing the note, pointed out that the privatisation policies of the BJP-led government under Modi are not only devastating for the common people and railway employees but also harmful to the existing manufacturing capacities of the railway production units, which are considered the gems of the Indian Railways.

Moreover, the government has been drastically cutting down the number of permanent posts while increasing the number of contract and outsourced workers and employees in all categories. This move has led to the deployment of contract workers without proper training in safety-related jobs, posing a risk to their lives and the lives of the passengers.

Placing the draft declaration and programme of actions, Tapan Sen highlighted the government's failure in fulfilling its responsibility to ensure basic needs such as electricity, transport, health, education, and housing for its citizens. Instead, the government is favouring private corporate monopolies in these sectors and formulating policies that prioritise corporate profits over the well-being of the common people, especially the poor. As a result, the basic necessities of life are becoming increasingly unaffordable and out of reach for many. This privatisation of essential services like electricity and railways has significant implications for workers as consumers of electricity and passengers of the Indian Railways.

The declaration, which was unanimously adopted in the convention, received a positive response from the delegates, inspiring them to intensify the pace of struggle. The convention firmly believes that employee efforts alone are not sufficient to halt privatisation. It calls for the active participation of all sections of society who are entitled to these services to join the fight against privatisation, with a particular focus on the privatisation of electricity and railways at this stage. Supporting the declaration, 23 leaders of electricity, railways and different states deliberated upon the notes. The convention was represented by various unions under the banner of EEFI, railways workers unions and leaders of 19 state committees of CITU.

The convention adopted a five-point charter of demands and a programme of action. The plan includes conducting discussions on the notes and declaration up to the lower level committees by September 15, 2023. District level conventions involving all CITU-affiliated unions and various sections of society will be organised between September 15 and October 10, 2023. An extensive and inclusive campaign will be carried out at workplaces, wards, neighbourhoods, and villages, utilising leaflets, booklets, and group meetings, as well as street corner gatherings.

On November 3, 2023, district-level demonstrations will be held nationwide to protest against the privatisation of electricity and railways. Additionally, separate demonstrations in front of railway stations will be organised within the same week.

The convention firmly resolved that workers and the people will unite in prolonged struggles to protect national assets and public utility services like electricity and railways. These united struggles aim to oppose the anti-people policies being pursued by the Modi-led BJP government.