Lucknow: Members of the Uttar Pradesh Power Employees Joint Action Committee (JAC) held candlelight marches across the state against the privatisation of the state power distribution company – Purvanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam LTD (PuVVNL) on September 28.
The candlelight march was held in all 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh. Agitating protesters were seen shouting slogans against the move in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency of Varanasi and in state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s home district of Gorakhpur. The employees say that the decision to privatise is neither in the interest of the employees nor is it going to benefit the general public. The protesters have warned that if the government does not withdraw its decision, there will be a massive agitation in the state.
According to the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) portal of the Union Power Ministry, as of March 2020, five discom companies in UP incurred a loss of Rs 819 crores.
Out of the total five power companies in the state, Meerut-based Paschimanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam and Kanpur Electricity Supply Company have been profitable while the remaining – Dakshinchal, Madhyamachal and Purvanchal – have been suffering losses. PuVVNL has suffered the maximum loss at Rs 1,550 crore. The state government has also increased electricity prices in the state, however, losses continue to mount.
“When the Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Council (UPSEB) was disbanded in 2000, the annual loss was just Rs 77 crore. But due to mismanagement and policies of the government after its dissolution, this deficit has now ballooned to more than Rs 95,000 crore. Similarly, experiments with privatisation in Greater Noida and the franchisee model in Agra have also proved to be a complete failure. The question is why is the cost of these failed experiments being imposed on Purvanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam,” chairman of All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF), Shailendra Dubey, told NewsClick.
He added that nearly 1.75 lakh crore un-electrified rural households and poor households in urban areas were provided free electricity across the state under the Saubhagya programme. “The Centre’s ambitious Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) scheme turned out to be an overload on the finances of Uttar Pradesh’s loss-making power distribution companies (discoms). Nearly 95.5% of rural consumers have not paid their electricity bills even once since April this year as they are not in a condition to pay. Now, there is a question mark against the existence of discoms. This is the reason the government wants to privatise PuVVNL,” he added.
Dubey said that if this “anti-people policy” is allowed to go through, then its not just employees who would suffer loss of jobs and face wage cuts, “but the consumer at large would be fleeced with expensive electricity and there will be cascading effect of rising expenses in the service sector, manufacturing and agrarian sector,” Dubey added.
He said that the additional chief secretary Arvind Kumar admitted that when private companies come in, employees will be retired. “There are fifteen thousand contractual workers, nine thousand permanent employees and nearly three thousand engineers and junior engineers working with the Purvanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam and everyone will lose their job after the hand over of electricity distribution to private companies,” he said.
Notably, the UP government has given its in-principle approval for the proposed un-bundling of PuVVNL. The company is one of five wholly-owned subsidiaries of the UP Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL). According to the proposal, PuVVNL will be disbanded into three smaller corporations, which will be privatised later.
This discom, which controls and manages electricity supply in Eastern UP, covers two cities with political heft – Varanasi and Gorakhpur.
Dubey said most of the amendments proposed in The Electricity Act, 2003, and National Tariff Policy are against the interests of the common consumer.
According to the All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF), under the new tariff policy, private companies will charge the full cost of power with guaranteed profits from the consumers, thus raising bills. “Under this policy, subsidy and cross-subsidy will be phased out in three years. With the abolition of this cross-subsidy, power will become costly for the consumers,” Dubey said.
He said employees would hold an indefinite strike without notice in case the government tried to issue an ordinance for privatisation. The state government argues that PuVVNL has been making a loss and privatisation is the solution.
The state's power employees and engineers, who have been protesting privatisation, have started a three-hour work boycott from September 29. There are plans for a full-day work boycott on October 5.
The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) on Tuesday condemned the Uttar Pradesh government for its efforts to privatise the electricity distribution business in some parts of the state.
“AITUC condemns the oppressive measures being resorted to by the Yogi Government of Uttar Pradesh by mass arrests of the trade union leaders in the power sector who are opposing and organising protest demonstrations against the privatisation of electricity distribution,” it said in a statement.
The trade union also criticised the arrest of its members protesting against the state government's move.
On Monday, the AIPEF said power engineers and other employees will also hold protest meetings on October 5 to lodge their protest against privatisation of the Varanasi discom sector.
“Power sector engineers and employees will observe countrywide protest meetings on October 5 in support of Uttar Pradesh power employees who are protesting the privatisation of Varanasi discom sector,” V.K. Gupta, spokesperson of AIPEF, said.