Government has been trying for the last 30 years to privatise electricity. Every day there is someone suggesting new methods on how to privatise electricity. This started in Odisha 30 years ago, during Narsimha Rao’s government’s so-called ‘reforms’. The experiment of privatisation of electricity has failed. Yet, this government has been trying repeatedly to privatise electricity distribution since it came to power.
Summary of the speech by Shri Shailendra Dubey, Chairman, All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) and Founding Member, National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEE) at the All India Meeting organised by AIFAP on 21 November 2021 on “Mobilise Consumers/Users and Other People to Participate in the Movement Against Privatisation”
Electricity is like railways and it is a lifeline. Government has been trying for the last 30 years to privatise electricity. Every day there is someone suggesting new methods on how to privatise electricity. This started in Odisha 30 years ago, during Narsimha Rao’s government’s so-called ‘reforms’. The experiment of privatisation of electricity has failed. Yet, this government has been trying repeatedly to privatise electricity distribution since it came to power. In 2014, they introduced the Electricity Amendment Bill 2014 and then again in 2018 but this bill lapsed. During the pandemic they announced the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020, and now they have proposed the Electricity Amendment Bill (EAB) 2021. All these bills contain the same thing.
Electricity infrastructure has been built by spending lakhs of crore rupees of people’s money. And they want to give this to private companies who can use it without spending a paise. They want to delicense electricity distribution. People are required to have a license even for driving a two-wheeler. But no license required for electricity distribution! People can simply register and they will be eligible to supply electricity. First, the generation of electricity was delicensed, and now more than 34,000 MW generation is lying idle due to high cost of fuel and other reasons. This is public money that is being wasted not capitalists’ money.
The coal crisis in October 2021 was a manufactured crisis. India is the second largest coal producer in the world. The coal crisis resulted in a power crisis. Electricity was sold at Rs. 20–21 per unit on the energy exchange. This was done by the same people who were responsible for the crisis. In Mundra, Gujarat, there are two 4000 MW power plants of Tata and Adani. Both are located in a coastal area, and both are based on imported coal. They did aggressive bidding for imported coal and they were required to pay for the coal for 25 years with adjustment of fuel cost. Both closed their plants recently saying the price of imported coal has gone up. When Gujarat and Punjab said they will buy electricity even at higher rates, they ran their plants at 1400 MW. These are the people who sold their electricity at Rs. 20 per unit. They could have used coal from Indonesia and Australia as they used to for keeping the plants running.
I wrote a letter to the Power Minister and told him to blacklist these companies. We are trying to explain this to common people. In Chandigarh, consumer forum and Resident Welfare Associations came in large numbers to oppose the Electricity Amendment Bill 2021 because losses in Chandigarh are in single digits—around 9%. Moreover, Chandigarh electricity is cheaper than Haryana and Punjab. Private sector company of Goenka, Kolkata Electricity Supply Company, is selling electricity at some of the highest costs in Kolkata. In Chandigarh, the Power Ministry is trying to give Chandigarh electricity to the same Kolkata Electricity Supply Company. This is a game for profit of corporates.
Electricity privatisation is directly related to farmers’ struggle. My salutations to them. This is like a second struggle for independence. Their demands include the repeal of Electricity Bill. They have understood the consequences of EAB 2021. If a farmer uses a 7.5-horsepower pump for 6 hours, he will consume 9000 units in a year. Farmers need power to pump water from tubewells. Today, the average cost of electricity is about Rs. 7 per unit. As minimum 16% increase is allowed to private companies, it will then cost Rs. 8.50 per unit. So, Rs. 72,000–80,000 will be the annual bill of the farmer (around 8,000 per month). But then they are trying to end the subsidy and cross subsidy. The Union Power Minister, RK Singh, says that the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) will be done. But the farmer should pay Rs.8,000 first, otherwise their power supply will be disconnected! I salute the farmers; they did not get fooled.
Common people think that privatisation is good. This is misleading. In Delhi electricity is free up to 200 units. For 200–400 units there is half rate or discount. But private electricity companies get the full rate and the subsidy is given by the government which is tax payers’ money. In Mumbai, Rs. 12–14 per unit is the rate for domestic consumer. Both Tata and Adani are operating in particular areas of Mumbai; Adani charges Rs. 12.20 and Tata charges Rs. 12.15. The government is simply fooling us by saying that privatisation will bring competition and reduce the tariff! These private companies use existing government network/ infrastructure.
Electricity is on the concurrent list and both centre and states have power. Telangana Chief Minister has demanded after farm law repeal that the electricity bill should be withdrawn. More than 12 state Chief Ministers have also made this demand.
I appeal to the farmers to stand with electricity workers like we have stood with farmers. We will fight till the bill is withdrawn. I have been to the farmers protest and addressed them. Farmers have made many sacrifices. Farmers fought against our government in the same way that Bhagat Singh fought against the British. We will also fight in the same way.
We will get consumers to join. If we want to really fight, all India trade unions should take railway and electricity workers and their unions in their confidence. Like railways, we also cannot strike for just 8 hours. Electricity and rail strike can cause a lot of disturbance. We are always ready to sacrifice. We will fight and definitely win. Inquilab zindabad.