Workers and employees from Assam’s state-run power distribution also took part in the all India General Strike on November 26 with massive protests.
The workers were in support of the general demand charter of the strike and are opposed to the privatisation of the APDCL (Assam Power Distribution Company Limited). The APDCL was incorporated on October 23, 2009 as a public limited company wholly owned by the Government of Assam.
The foreseeable privatisation of the APDCL is due to the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020, and the standard bidding document (SBD).
The state of Assam has an average peak demand for 1400 MW of electricity while the state produces only 200 MW on its own. The state has three functional power projects which produce lesser power than the state requires. The first is the Karbi Langpi Hydel Power Project, the other is the Namrup Thermal Power Station (NTPS) and finally, there is the Lakuwa Thermal Power Station (LTPS). There are a few more projects which have been under construction for a long time, those which are still not complete despite wide-scale protests in October last year.
The unfinished projects had been planned in places like Margherita in Nagaon, where the Kopili river was to be harness for producing electricity. However, the most significant case of mismanagement by the government is the NRPP (Namrup Replacement Power Project), work on which had begun way back in 2009; it was supposed to produce 100 MW of power. The construction project was undertaken by BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited) and the current BJP government led by Sarbananda Sonowal has not been successful in finishing it.
Assam’s gross deficit of power is met by procuring electricity from other parts of the country, a process where the government spends more in buying in comparison to what it gets from the tariff paid by the people of the state. However, the per unit electricity price has been subsidised by the state government and is determined by the AERC (Assam Electricity Regulation Commission), a body where public grievances can be registered.
As a result, employees say that the power sector in Assam, which is already in deficit, can not bear to sell off its infrastructure to private players (the SBD lays the foundation for that).
Speaking to NewsClick, Brojen Bori, the president of the ASPWU (Assam State Power Workers Union), a prominent union of the power sector workers, explained how the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill and the SBD will hamper thousands of workers and employees working in the sector.
“After the SBD was declared, a nine member committee was formed by the Assam Govt. which was to submit their recommendations on the implementation of the SBD. We still don’t know anything about the decision of the committee. However, going by the SBD, it will be devastating for the power sector in Assam if implemented. The SBD would allow the sale of infrastructure resources at throwaway prices to private players. Later on, a private enterprise may also demand land which currently with the APDCL. Moreover, the SBD would render the AERC defunct and, as a result, there will be no scope for public grievances when the price per unit of electricity will be much higher than what is today. The state government subsidy will also go away. In addition, there will be a massive job loss when the APDCL will be privatised,” he said.
The ASPWU led protests in at least 15 districts across Assam. The 19 circles in the state and two project sites also registered protests, according to Amit Kar, the general secretary of the ASPWU. Kar told NewsClick that the workers and employees supported the marching farmers and bringing back the earlier labour codes and the old pension scheme in place of the National Pension Scheme (NPS).
The electric supply in rural Assam is still very poor. Distribution of power to the rural areas, where the population density is scarce, incurs a greater cost to a power distribution company. “This situation will be aggravated if the sector is given to private companies which only look at profits. The APDCL gets a subsidy from the state government and the new regulations would foresee ably scrap all the subsidy provisions. The Sonowal government at the state and the Modi government at the Centre don’t pay any attention to the plight of the people,” said Rakesh Chakravarty, an activist from Goalpara associated with the Assam Pradesh Youth Congress.