Thousands of power-sector employees from all over India stormed Parliament Street in Delhi on 3 April in protest against the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2014, which seeks to extend privatisation to the distribution of electricity.
The massive rally saw different unions of electricity employees and engineers from all regions come together on the call of “Delhi Chalo” given by the National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEE).
Carrying banners and shouting slogans against privatisation, more than 25,000 people participated in the protest march.
The rally called for a one-day strike against the amendment Bill during the upcoming Monsoon session of Parliament in August.
The Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2014 wants to bifurcate the electricity distribution function into infrastructure (carriage) and supply (content). This means that while a government company would lay down the wires, private companies would compete over selling the electricity to consumers and earn profits.
The rally also protested against the UP government’s two-pronged move to privatise electricity.
On 16 March, the BJP state government decided to entirely privatise the electricity distribution franchisees in five cities — Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Meerut and Moradabad.
Earlier, the UP government in February floated tenders inviting private companies in seven districts — Etawah, Kannauj, Orai, Rae Bareli, Saharanpur, Mau and Ballia — to take over various distribution activities, even as the government will maintain the network infrastructure carrying the power. This move is similar to what the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2014 envisions.
The private companies, to be called ‘Integrated Service Providers’, will take over activities like giving out new power connections, installing the meter, meter reading, changing the meter, issuing bills and collecting the revenue.
Power employees in UP have been protesting against the government’s decision by observing a work-to-rule protest since 28 March. They will hold a 72-hour strike on 9 April.
Besides several state-level unions, the different unions that took part in the “Delhi Chalo” rally included the Electricity Employees’ Federation of India (affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions), the All India Federation of Electricity Employees (affiliated to the All India Trade Union Congress), the Indian National Federation of Electricity Workers (affiliated to the Indian National Trade Union Congress), the All India Federation of Power Diploma Engineers, All India Power Men’s Federation, the All India Power Engineers’ Federation.
Addressing the rally, KO Habib, president of the Electricity Employees’ Federation of India, said that the proposed Bill aimed to create avenues for private companies to do business in power sector without any investment. Splitting of distribution business into carriage and content would create the scope for private businesses to make profits while using the network set up by the public exchequer.
In other words, it is cost to the public for the profit of private business community.
Shailendra Dubey of the All India Power Engineers’ Federation (AIPEF) said the franchisee move in UP was just the beginning of privatisation of power sector in the country, and that the engineers and employees in UP have been protesting inside their workspace and on the streets every day.
He said former power minister Piyush Goyal in 2015 and 2016 had assured the electricity employees and engineers that before the Bill was taken up in Parliament, there would be discussions with the representatives of electricity employees’ unions and organisations.
The protesting employees are demanding that the BJP-led NDA govt. scrap the privatisation amendments and discuss the Bill with all stakeholders.
They also warned the Yogi Adityanath government that if any punitive action was taken against the protesting employees in UP, then unions from across the country would rally in their support and the struggle would escalate further.