Tensions flare up between the electricity employees and the Centre, as a contentious amendment to the Electricity Act of 2003 has been listed to be tabled in Parliament during the ongoing Monsoon session, prompting the latter to call for a one-day strike.
The said amendment to the Electricity Act seeks to de-license power distribution business for increased competition in the sector among others. Simply put, the amendment will allegedly result in the privatisation of power distribution across the country – an exercise that is already ongoing in some States and Union Territories (UTs).
The staff federations of power utilities across the country will boycott work for one day on August 10 in case their demands, that include scrapping of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, are not met, National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees & Engineers (NCCOEEE) said in a strike notice addressed to respective heads of the utilities on Monday, July 19.
The submission of the notice was preceded by a “massive” show of strength of the umbrella group of utility staff federations in a nationwide demonstration on Monday that saw participation of over 60% of the 2 million-plus electricity employees and engineers, as per the coordination committee's press statement.
The two-hour long demonstration coincided with the first day of Parliament’s Monsoon session, that was not without a ruckus in both the houses over several issues including the farm laws and fuel price hike.
Also read: Electricity Employees Across India Hold One-Day Strike, Demand Affordable Electricity
The amendment bill was listed to be introduced in Parliament last year as well, but without any success, as it attracted the ire of not just trade unions but also of protesting farmers’ organisations. Additionally, the provisions of the bill were also “vehemently” opposed by 12 States and UTs then, according to NCCOEEE.
However, none of these objections were “taken into consideration,” and the opinions of the stakeholders were “not paid any heed,” alleged NCCOEEE on Monday. The umbrella body had earlier argued that the object of the contentious bill, “is to create ample scope of profit [for] greedy business community”. This comes at the cost of public owned power utilities which, “will be driven out from the revenue potential urban and Industrial area”.
On a similar line, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the coming together of farmers’ groups that is leading the agitation at Delhi Borders, too, warned the Narendra Modi-led central government on Monday against “any reneging of the commitment” made by the latter, while taking note of the inclusion of the Electricity Amendment Bill in the legislative business for the ongoing session.
In a meeting held between the Centre and the farmers’ organisations in December last year, the former had conceded to two of the four demands raised by the protesting farmers, that included agreeing to “withdraw” the amendment to the 2003 Act.
The farmers have been staying put at the borders of the national capital for close to eight months now, protesting above all against the three controversial farm legislations while demanding to turn support prices for their crops into a legal right.
Prasanta N Chowdhary, convenor, NCCOEEE told NewsClick on Tuesday, that a delegation of the electricity employees and engineers will be travelling to Delhi to meet R K Singh, Union Minister, Power, New and Renewable Energy on July 27. “We had solicited an appointment for our national leaders to meet him on July 13. We however, haven’t received a word on it as yet,” he said.
Also read: Amendments to Electricity Law Flayed by Power Employees, Protests Held in 680 Districts
Chowdhary also spoke about how the coordination committee is planning to gear up the power utility employees for the August 10 strike action. “We have planned to commence a nationwide campaign from July 25 to August 9. The idea it to seek as much support as we can from different sections of the society for the demands that we are raising,” he said.
Along with the scrapping of the Amendment Bill, the group is also pressing the Centre to cancel all existing private licenses and franchises in power sector, along with withdrawing the process of privatisation of electricity in states and UTs.
Incidentally, the strike action of the electricity employees and engineers, if staged, will also coincide with the nationwide protest to “Save India,” that has been called jointly by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), along with its sister organisations representing farmers (All India Kisan Sabha) and agricultural labourers (All India Agricultural Workers Union).