On June 1, employees from the Power Department across the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh were seen protesting outside their respective offices wearing black badges while maintaining social distancing. The protest was in line with the call for national protest by the All India Powers Engineers Federation (AIPEF) and the National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEE). The protests were triggered by the recently proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020, which strengthens the participation of private players, paving way for privatisation of the entire power sector in the country.
After proposing the draft of the bill, the Centre had asked all the stakeholders to provide their comments within 21 days. As the bill inspired protests from several quarters, the day for submission was extended to June 2.
“If this bill is implemented, we will see the distribution of power going into the hands of private players, who will fix the tariff as per their own convenience and margins. This will affect a very large number of people, including consumers as well as the employees,” said Sachin Tikku, convenor of the Power Employees’ Coordination Committee (PECC) in J&K.
Bones of Contention
The protesters have said that the bill grants “ease of making business for the profit monger community and all aspects related to right to electricity for the poor people has been set aside.”
The removal of cross subsidy and providing subsidy on power through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) is the major bone of contention in the amended bill. Protesters said that this amendment will majorly affect the below poverty line (BPL) consumers and farmers who will have to pay the bill as per the power consumed for agricultural purposes. After which, they will receive subsidy in their bank accounts.
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“This is a very dire situation. When farmer receives the bill, he/ she will have to pay the amount, they can’t keep waiting for the subsidy. And one never knows when they will receive the subsidy. And if they are incapable to pay the bill, the power connection will be disconnected. Basically, a consumer should have money in his/her pocket to pay the electricity bill. They can’t wait for the subsidy to arrive,” said Tikku.
“We have already given 50% subsidy to the consumers of Jammu and Kashmir. This is a failure of the government, I must say,” said Shakeel, one of the protesters from Srinagar.
As per the new bill, a Central Enforcement Authority will be set up which will be headed by a retired judge of high court. Tikku explained that setting up of ECEA will disempower the regulatory commissions and will further lead to centralisation of power to a single authority. “When there are regulatory commissions and appellant authority, then what is the need of another enforcement authority?,” he questioned.
“Not only will it disempower the regulatory commissions, it will also create difficulty for the consumers for fighting legal battles which were easier earlier,” said another employee requesting anonymity.
Fear of Privatisation Among Employees
The protesters have termed the bill draconian, anti-farmers, and anti-people. A protester said, “The bill is draconian and anti-people with clear objective of snatching away rights of access to electricity from the poor section of Indian people and the farmers.”
The protesters added that privatisation will lead to large scale unemployment in the Power Department. “Once the department goes into the hands of the private players, they can reduce the staff. They might not need the staff as per their working. We will see lots of engineers and technicians losing their jobs. There are chances of forced voluntary retirements also,” said Tikku.
The daily wagers and need-based workers, who have yet not been regularised even after 20 years, are also afraid of losing their jobs.
An employee of the Power Department, on the condition of anonymity, told NewsClick, “This move is detrimental to the service rights of the 31,000 government employees including daily wagers and need-based workers who have beenawaiting regularisation for more than 20 years, and continue to work day and night for maintaining smooth power supply 24*7.”
Also read:Electricity Employees, Engineers to Observe National Protest Day Against Electricity (Amendment) Bill