Bhopal: The Madhya Pradesh Bijli Karamchari Mahasangh (MPBKM) and Power Engineer and Employee Association (PEEA), associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have been opposing the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The two organisations said will stage an indefinite strike from August 13 if their demands are not met after a day-long strike on August 7.
The MPBKM and PEEA are backed by the RSS, which has close ideological and organisational links to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party in the state.
"The Union government believes that privatisation is the only solution to every problem and they do it without consultation. But the proposed bill is not only against the employees but also the consumers," said Kishorilal Raikwar, national working president of MPBKM and state working president of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the labour wing of the RSS.
"If the new law comes into effect, the power prices will drastically surge and it will create chaos in the power sector," he added.
Both the organisations are part of the MP Vidhyut Adhikari Karmachari Sayukt Morcha (MPVAKSM) -- an umbrella organisation of 17 power sector trade unions, led by the third and fourth class employees of the state to jointly fight against the privatisation of electricity.
Interestingly, under Sayukt Morcha, several RSS-backed organisations and the Congress affiliated Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC's) have joined hands to oppose the newly proposed bill. The forum held a state-wide protest on July 27 and submitted the memorandums to the regional power offices.
However, the Sayukt Morcha decided not to follow the All India Power Engineers Association (AIPEA), a central trade union of power employees that has been opposing the privatisation of electricity and has held many rallies in the past. Instead, the Sayukt Morch formed different front while moving away from AIPEA's way of struggle.
Unlike AIPEA, which has given a call for an one-day nation-wide strike on August 10, the MP Sayukt Morcha has announced a day-long strike on August 7 and an indefinite strike from August 13 if the government did not roll back the proposed bill. "We will boycott work on August 7 to show dissent on privatisation of electricity," said an officer bearer of Sayukt Morcha.
The Union Government on July 30 has sent the proposed draft of Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to the Cabinet Secretary for further consideration, said Power Minister RK Singh after his meeting with the top officials of the Ministry and heads of DISCOMS of all states and union territories on Friday. “Consultation for the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 has been done and sent to the Cabinet Secretary for further consideration,” Singh said when asked if the Bill will be introduced in the monsoon session.
Sushil Kumar Pandey, another office bearer of the RSS-associated organisation, lambasted the Union government for proposing the bill without following due process and consultation. Besides, there is no clarity regarding the existing employees and contract workers who amount to over 50,000 in Madhya Pradesh.
"How can the government hand over an infrastructure worth crores to private companies for just a single penny? We built this after years of labour and toil," he lamented.
When asked about his association with RSS and the government he replied, "When a family member did not get a fair share in the house which he built after years of labour, rebellion is necessary. We will put up a strong fight.”
Kuldeep Singh Gurjar of PEEA, another RSS-backed organisation, also made similar claims.
The newly proposed Electricity Amendment Bill enables de-licensing of distribution, at least on paper, giving consumers a choice to choose a distribution company in their area. There is the provision of a universal service obligation fund, which shall be managed by a government company. This fund shall be utilised to meet any deficits in cross-subsidy. In case of supply through pre-paid metres, a security deposit will not be required.
Besides, several tribunals will be formed to address the complaints, as per the proposed bill which is likely to pass in the ongoing monsoon session of the Parliament. However, the bill does not resolve the existing problems of the power department, according to experts.
In the context of Madhya Pradesh, the state has six power companies managed by the state government. If the Electricity Amendment Bill passed, the state will have countless suppliers and customers can choose their service providers.
Speaking to Newsclick, BD Gautam, office bearer of Congress-backed MP Vidyut Karamchari Sangh-INTUC and president of Sanyukt Morcha Madhya Pradesh, he said that the July 27 protest was a warning for the State as well as the Union government to withdraw the proposed bill as it will run the Power sector into ruins.
Referring to the BSNL, a government-owned telecom company, he said, "The Union government should take a cue from the BSNL and should not privatise the power sector. Private companies are allowed to use the existing infrastructure of BSNL and they earn crores from it but don't pay over thousands of crores to the government company, which is on the verge of bankruptcy."
He further claimed that a few private companies were given the work of managing the power distribution in Ujjain, Sagar and Gwalior districts of MP in the last couple of years. But they ran away within a couple of months and have not paid crores of rupees to the Electricity Department and the matter is subjudice before the courts.
When asked why the Sayukt Morcha was not following the All India Power Engineers Association, which has been opposing privatisation since its inception, he explained that the Sayukt Morcha was a central trade union and theirs was only for MP. Secondly, AIPEA is a forum of elite power officials with no representation of third and fourth grade employees and they want them to follow their orders the way their subordinates follow them in the offices.
“Our goal is the same but paths are different--the way MK Gandhi and Subash Chandra Bose had chosen different paths to free India from British,” he explained.
MP United forum for Power Employees and Engineers which is associated to AIPEA have also dashed off many letters to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouan and Power Minister Praduman Singh Tomar to register their dissent over the privatisation of power and also demanded to induct the contract employees in the department.
VKS Parihar, convener of the United Forum and AIPEA in MP, said, "Apart from privatisation of the power section, we have demanded to regularise the contract workers just like Bihar and Andhra Pradesh governments have done. Besides, we also urged the government to pay Rs 50 lakh compensation to the front line employees of the Electricity Department, who died during COVID-19 duty, as promised by the Chief Minister.”
When asked why they did not follow the newly formed Sayukt Morcha, he replied, “Sayukt Morcha has many RSS backed organisations which always tow the government’s line and they have a history of rolling back their protests when RSS asked them to.”
“It’s a long fight and we need associations of such employees and unions which can remain firm in this struggle and don't follow the government’s agenda. Hence, we will observe a day-long strike on August 10 as asked by the central leadership,” he added.