Electricity is one of the basic needs of human life. Earning private profit cannot be the objective of producing and distributing this basic necessity
This is the first in a series of articles on the class struggle over electricity in India
Lakhs of electricity workers have been waging a concerted struggle against repeated attempts to enact a law that paves the way for complete privatisation of electric power generation and distribution.
The Electricity Amendment Bill 2021 is the fourth such attempt of the government. Different versions of this bill have been prepared in 2014, 2018 and 2020; but it is yet to be tabled in Parliament.
Electricity workers organised protest demonstrations s all over the country in August 2021, protesting against the Electricity Amendment Bill and the entire program to privatise electric supply.
Protests against privatisation have been and are continuing at the state level, as in Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and several other parts of the country.
Workers in Chandigarh went on strike in February 2022 against privatisation of power distribution, crippling power supply in this joint capital city of Punjab and Haryana.
Electricity board workers in Jammu Kashmir organised a mass boycott of attending to faults in December 2021. This brought the Central Government hurriedly to the negotiating table and agree to postpone its plan to privatise electricity supply in this union territory.
In the face of mass opposition and strikes by the electricity workers all over the country, the central Cabinet has kept postponing the tabling of the Electricity Amendment Bill in Parliament.
In this 21st century, nobody can deny that electricity is one of the basic needs of human life. It is impossible to get even basic education without electricity. This is a fact which is being repeatedly stated by the workers’ unions.
Access to electric supply is an essential need of all human beings in this day and age. It is a universal right. Hence it is the duty of the State to ensure adequate and reliable supply of electricity at affordable rates to all. Privatisation of electric supply amounts to the abrogation of duty by the State. It is a violation of the fundamental right of all households to have access to reliable electric supply at affordable rates.
The Government of India is refusing to discuss this issue with the workers’ representatives. It shows that the bourgeoisie has no credible answer to the irrefutable arguments of the workers against privatisation of electricity supply.
The privatisation program began in the 1990s in the sphere of power generation. Long-term power purchase agreements were signed by the authorities with various private companies, Indian and foreign. It led to huge private profits for the monopoly capitalists who invested in power generation. It led to a large increase in the price that state electricity boards had to pay for power. This in turn led to a steep rise in the rates which farmers and urban workers had to pay for electric power.
The spokesmen of the Central Government and various bourgeois economists claim that privatisation of electricity distribution will give customers the freedom to choose between different companies. They claim that it will bring in healthy competition, which will lead to more efficient and reliable power supply at affordable rates.
The experience with distribution privatisation so far does not support the claims of its proponents. Mumbai city, for instance, has two private companies and one public company supplying electric power; and power rates in the city are one of the highest in the country. In Delhi, different zones are under the control of two different companies, owned by the Tata and Reliance monopoly houses. Individual households do not have any choice whatsoever. They are at the mercy of one private monopoly or the other.
The Electricity Amendment Bill aims to create the opportunity for private companies to enjoy high profit rates with low risk, without the need to advance their own capital to invest in infrastructure. It includes a clause which states:
“A distribution company shall provide non-discriminatory access through its distribution system to all distribution companies registered within the same area of supply…”.
This means that the huge network built with public funds, which are under the control of the state electricity boards, will be made available to the big capitalists, practically for free.
The workers’ unions have repeatedly pointed out that this Bill is tailormade to serve the interests of private companies, at the expense of workers, peasants and other low-income consumers. Delicensing of electricity distribution means freedom for capitalist companies to choose their customers and freedom to charge higher rates.
Kisan unions have joined hands with workers’ unions to oppose the Electricity Amendment Bill. They realise that electric power for running their water pumps will become very expensive.
Workers of state electricity boards have started to educate urban households about the harmful effects that privatisation of both power generation and distribution will have on them.
The struggle of the electricity workers deserves wholehearted support by the workers in all branches of the economy. It deserves to be supported by all those who care about the future of our society, which is at present being dragged along a dangerous course by the monopoly capitalists and the parties which do their bidding.
The fight against privatisation is a fight of workers, peasants and other toiling people against the bourgeoisie, headed by the monopoly houses. The struggle has to be waged with the perspective of liberating society from being dominated by the greed of profit hungry monopoly capitalists. This requires the working class to take political power in its hands, socialise the ownership of the means of large-scale production and reorient the economy towards fulfilling all essential needs of dignified human life of all members of society.
Read the Second part: Crisis of Electricity Supply and its Real Cause