Electricity is an Essential Social Need and Universal Human Right

This is the Sixth in a series of articles on the class struggle over electricity in India

The class struggle that is going on over electricity is about who should own this vital productive force and what should be the aim of its production and distribution. At the centre of the conflict is the very definition of the role of electricity in society.

On one side are the advocates of privatisation, a program aimed at making the supply of electricity a source of maximum profit for private power companies. On the other side are the workers and broad masses of people who are insisting that electricity is an essential necessity for fulfilling the growing needs of the whole of society, and it is a universal human right.

Nobody can deny that electricity is an essential necessity for society to survive and progress. Electricity is needed to run modern industries and mines. It is required for pumping water through pipes and from under the ground. Most activities in the economy and in social life are dependent on electricity. It is not without reason that the per-capita consumption of electricity is considered an indicator of the level of development of a country.

It is also indisputable that electricity is a basic need of every human being in modern society. It is needed to light up homes. It is needed for internet connectivity. The Corona virus pandemic has clearly shown that those who do not have electricity at home cannot have access to even basic education. Along with food, shelter, basic education, health care and safe drinking water, access to electricity at home is a universal human right.

Defining electricity as a right that belongs to all human beings means that the State is duty bound to ensure its availability at affordable rates for all. Privatisation means to hand over the task of supplying electricity to private companies. It means that the State is abrogating its duty. It is violating human rights.

The program of privatisation is motivated by the aim and vision of converting both the generation and distribution of electricity into sources of maximum profits for privately owned companies. This is totally incompatible with the aim and vision of the working class and all of progressive humanity, which is to continuously expand electric supply to ensure the fulfilment of the ever-growing material and cultural requirements of the whole of society.

The generation and distribution of electricity can either be oriented to maximising private profit, or towards enabling universal access at affordable rates. It is not possible to achieve both these aims at the same time.

The substantial privatisation of electricity generation, carried out in recent decades, has not made electricity cheaper. It has not made electricity accessible to everyone. Privatisation of electricity distribution will make electricity even less affordable. It will deprive far flung and remote areas of regular power.

Privatisation has been used to provide guaranteed profits to monopoly capitalists. State-owned electricity boards and distribution companies have been made financially weak, so as to create conditions for selling them to private companies at extremely low prices.

The per capital consumption of electricity in India lags far behind other countries. Per-capita power consumption in China is nearly four and half times that in India.In England it is three and half times. In the United States of America, it is nine times the per-capita consumption in India. Within India, there are huge variations from state to state. Per-capita power consumption in Bihar and Assam is only one fourth of the national average. Even after 75 years of post-colonial development, crores of rural and urban homes do not have any access to electricity, or have very inadequate access.

There is a need to expand electricity generation and distribution in a planned way, both for satisfying household needs of all people and to enable rapid growth in industrial production. This requires a complete reorientation of the entire economy. At present, the orientation is to generate maximum profits for Indian and international monopoly capitalists. This has to be turned around. The production and distribution of goods and services need to be driven by the motive of maximum possible fulfilment of the rising material and cultural needs of the entire population.

The struggle against the privatisation of electricity is an essential part of the struggle against the capitalist orientation of the economy. The economy needs to be re-oriented in order to fulfil human needs instead of monopoly capitalist greed. Only the working class in power, in alliance with the peasants and other oppressed masses of people, can carry out this re-orientation of the economy. The struggle against privatisation of electricity has to be waged with this perspective.

Read the Fifth part: Privatisation of Electricity Distribution – False Claims and Real Aim

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