The workers of the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd. (MSEDCL) have been waging a valiant struggle against the privatisation of electricity distribution in Kalwa, Mumbra and Diva (suburbs of Thane). As in the case of workers from other sectors, the government and monopoly-controlled media tried to incite users against them. However this time they failed to do so. This is because many citizens’ organisations were aware of the fact that privatisation is an attack not just on workers but on users as well; it is an anti-social attack. These organisations took up a campaign to make the citizens conscious of this.
The Regional Committee of the CGPI brought out a statement of support and distributed it widely (MEL, Jan 16-31, 2019). The statement of Lok Raj Sangathan, Sahyog Sthanik Janvikas Sanstha Kalwa and Navkranti Shetkari Sanstha Kalwa was distributed in thousands in Kalwa-Mumbra-Diva, in demonstrations, meetings and over forty street corner meetings. In the leaflet the bitter experience of privatisation of electricity distribution in Bhiwandi and elsewhere was described. It was also pointed out that like roti, kapda, makan, water supply, electricity, transport, communication, etc. are also basic necessities and it is the government’s duty to provide them. These are all basic services, and they cannot be looked at as generators of profit. This point struck a chord with the users as well as workers.
A massive signature campaign was launched by these organisations and more than 3600 signatures were submitted to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra through the Thane District Collector. Copies were also given to the Municipal Commissioner, Thane. The citizens were not only protesting the decision of the government to privatise electricity distribution, they also declared that they would not tolerate the proposed privatisation of water distribution in Thane.
In this campaign the activists explained the difficulties faced by the workers of MSEDCL and also exposed the lies of the government. As far as the alleged losses are concerned, the government blames the workers of MSEDCL for being lazy and the poor citizens claiming that they do not pay for electricity. This is blatantly untrue. Firstly, MSEDCL is grossly understaffed, with over 30000 of the 97000 sanctioned posts remaining vacant. Actually, taking into account the growth in the number of users, thousands of more posts ought to be sanctioned! Most of the unpaid dues in Maharashtra are from sugar mills, big malls, hotels, etc. (many of whom have political connections). When the workers of MSEDCL go to them for collection, they are threatened. These brave workers made many attempts in Kalwa and Mumbra to recover dues of these big users. They tried to lodge over a hundred FIRs, but were not successful. It is suspected that the police had orders not to allow that.
The Agri Samaj Prathishthan held a meeting in Shil where hundreds of people expressed their opposition to the privatisation. The activists of the Dharma Rajya Paksh distributed a leaflet in large numbers. It spoke about how the Torrent Company has been looting the citizens of Bhiwandi with the collusion of state authorities.
Activists as well as local leaders of various political parties took stands supporting the citizens in their fight against privatisation. A massive morcha was organised jointly on Saturday, 19th January. Around 5000 people, women and men, from Kalwa, Mumbra, Kausa, Sheel, gathered with placards at Parsiknagar to protest against the Maharashtra Government’s decision to privatise electricity distribution. They marched 6 km from Parsiknagar through the crowded streets of Kalwa to the Collector’s Office at Thane. Many organisations and parties participated militantly, expressing their resolve to not give up the fight till the order was withdrawn.
Because thousands of citizens had supported the workers of MSEDCL, the government had no option but to declare a stay on the privatisation proposal. This indeed is a victory of the workers and users. However they have to continue to be vigilant. They must not forget that the High Command of many parties that are saying today that they are opposed to privatisation have themselves implemented this agenda of the big monopoly houses when they were in power. These parties are the managers of the ruling class. It is their job to say what the people want, particularly before elections or when they are in the so-called opposition, but do what the ruling class wants. Our fight against privatisation is a part of the bigger fight to replace the rule of the big capitalists with that of the workers and toilers!