On 15th August, hundreds of people of Bhiwandi, a town close to Mumbai, came out on streets demanding “Freedom from Torrent Power!” Prior to this on 21st July also more than ten thousand people of Bhiwandi had organized a demonstration under the slogan “Torrent Hatao Bhiwandi Bachao”. In both militant actions a very large number of women and youth participated from Bhiwandi town and neighboring villages. They have united under the banner of “Torrent Atyachaar Virodhi Jan Sangharsh Samiti”.
Bhiwandi is a town close to Mumbai with a predominantly working class population and Adivasis. Power looms, ready-made textiles, huge storage and distribution go-downs, transport and farming are the main sources of livelihood for the hard working people of Bhiwandi. In spite of opposition by thousands of people, the then Congress led Government of Maharashtra, handed over power distribution in Bhiwandi to Torrent Power Ltd. in 2007. Since then, people of Bhiwandi have been expressing their displeasure with Torrent Power and demanding its removal. However, no party of the capitalist class — including Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, BJP or Shiv Sena paid any heed to them.
In the last few months the situation has reached a boiling point. People are angry due to the steep increase in their electricity bills since Torrent Power has taken over. High cost of electricity is cited as one of the main reasons for the plight of the power loom and textile industry. People are angry with the high handed behavior of Torrent Power officials, faulty electricity meters which run fast and consumers getting bills running into tens of thousands or even lakhs, filing of false cases of power theft against residents, etc.
In meetings many men and women speakers declared that if Torrent is not driven out of Bhiwandi, then even more agitations will be organized and no MLA, MP, corporator etc. will be allowed in the city. This clearly indicates that they are not willing to be fooled by the sweet talk of leaders of political parties of the capitalist class. This stance of the people has forced local leaders of various parties of capitalists to join the movement against Torrent Power.
Kamgar Ekta Committee, Maharashtra State Electricity Workers Federation, Bhiwandi Jan Sangharsh Samiti, All India Trade Union Congress, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All India United Trade Union Centre have also supported the struggle. In a joint leaflet brought out by these organizations they have urged the people of Bhiwandi to demand that all political party leaders and the elected representatives should do what people are saying and hence throw Torrent power out of Bhiwandi. The leaflet has also cautioned the people of Bhiwandi to guard against attempts to divide the unity of people against Torrent Power on the basis of religion and caste.
In the 15th August program a very clearly worded demand has been raised that “Maharashtra State government should immediately take control of power distribution, bill collection etc. from Torrent Power and hand it over to the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd. (MSEDCL).”
Inspired by the Bhiwandi agitation, people of Kalwa, a suburb of Thane city have also held a few meetings where citizens expressed their anger against Torrent Power, for the same reasons as raised by the people of Bhiwandi. Beginning from mid-2019, the people of Mumbra, Kalwa, Diva, etc. were successful in preventing Torrent power to enter for more than a year. Kamgar Ekta Committee along with many other local organizations had played a major role in that struggle. However, taking advantage of the Covid lockdown situation, suddenly in April 2020, Torrent Power was handed over the power distribution in these areas. Now people have started organizing against Torrent Power.
Since 2014, power sector employees across the country have managed to stall many attempts of the Central Government to pass the Electricity Amendment Bill. This has been possible due to a very strong and militant unity across various sections of power sector workers and also support of other working class organizations and people at large. Passage of this Bill will lead to privatisation of the most profitable parts of distribution and tremendous surge in bills for consumers.
Militant and united resistance by the power sector workers of Maharashtra has also put a spoke in the wheel of the Maharashtra government and at least temporarily has stalled the declared intent of handing over power distribution of 16 major cities of Maharashtra.
The struggle which has been started by people of Bhiwandi, Kalwa etc. will certainly inspire similar united actions by power consumers and power sector workers and will surely prevent further privatization of power sector in Maharashtra.