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#WorkersStrikeBack: Power Engineers Among Workers Striking Against Modi Government

The power ministry had written to the National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers to not proceed on the two-day work boycott, calling the action ‘premature’, but the employees & engineers are going ahead.
Power Employees

Image Coutesy: BusinessLine

As workers from across India get ready for the two-day nationwide strike on January 8 and 9 — on the call of 10 central trade unions and several independent federations of workers across sectors of industry and service — joining them are the engineers and employees from the power sector.

The National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEE) — a joint platform of all unions and federations in the power sector — is going ahead with their planned nationwide boycott of work on January 8 and 9 against the Electricity (Amendment ) Bill 2018 and privatisation policies of the central and state governments.

The power ministry in a recent letter to the NCCOEEE had asked them not to go ahead with the strike, informing them of the present status of the Amendment Bill and terming the proposed work boycott as “premature” as comments on the amendment were still being examined, said Shailendra Dubey, chairman of the All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) and convenor of the NCCOEEE.

However, the NCCOEEE decided to proceed with the work boycott in support of the nationwide workers’ strike, because the letter merely informs of the status of the Bill without any commitments to address the issues power employees have been raising for years.

Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2018

The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, first introduced in 2014, and opposed by power employees since then, seeks to amend the Electricity Act 2003.

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The Bill wants to bifurcate the distribution function of the power sector into carriage (infrastructure) and the actual sale (content), proposing that a government company lay down the wires (the distribution network) carrying the electricity to consumers while private companies compete over the selling of electricity to consumers and earn profits without any investment. One of the selling agencies has to be a government-owned one, presumably to take care of the loss-making segments among consumers (for example, rural households).

Not only does this amount to privatisation of profits and nationalisation of losses, but the amendment Bill is anti-people and against the people’s right to electricity — as private sector would compete over larger and more profitable consumers while the smaller and poorer consumers would be left to languish. The latest version of the Bill also calls for state-wise phasing out of subsidy and cross-subsidy within three years, said Dubey.

The NCCOEEE has also warned of a flash strike whenever the government attempts to pass the Bill in Parliament.

Besides the scrapping of the Bill, the power engineers & employees demand integration of all unbundled power utilities in the form of State Electricity Boards. The 2003 Electricity Act, following the World Bank’s model of “unbundling” had trifurcated the electricity boards into three different sub-sectors of generation, transmission and distribution, so that private companies could enter the profitable aspect of generation, which has also led to the present power sector crisis.

Their other demands are implementation of old pension scheme for all power employees recruited after unbundling as well as regularisation of all contractual workers.

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