One of the principal prescripts of the doctrine of Globalization that the entire imperialist-capitalist world including India began to pursue vigorously from early 1990s branding it as new theory to usher in rapid economic growth in the unipolar world, was to open up key public welfare and utility services sector to the private operators. Following that, the erstwhile Congress government started disinvestment of public sector units and commoditization of essential services like education, healthcare and electricity which are supposed to be provided to people either free or an affordable cost by the government, if necessary through subsidization. Paving the same way, the BJP government also gave more stress on this reckless commoditization spree with a view to winning trust and confidence of the ruling monopolists and multinationals as their most dependable servitors. It is in course of that the most atrocious the Electricity Act 2003 was brought in by the Vajpayee-led BJP government. This new act was diametrically opposite to the aims and objectives of the Electricity (Supply) Act 1948 passed soon after independence. The Electricity Act 2003 had opened the flood gates of privatization in the power sector particularly in power generation wing which became a bonanza to the private players. It also turned out to be a boon for the Independent Power Production (IPP). Now the industrialists of our country are in control of 50% of total power production which, after independence, was in public sector.
The BJP-led central government with an ulterior motive introduced the Electricity (Amendment)Bill 2021at a time when entire country was virtually under lockdown due to severe outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. People were then in a state of panic with normal flow of life visibly disturbed. In such a critical situation, it was not possible for the suffering people to rise in protest against an anti-people measure. Seizing this hour of immense predicament of the people, the BJP government introduced the aforesaid Bill in the parliament, in a most undemocratic and autocratic way without discussing with any of the stakeholders. Thus, it cunningly rolled out the process of all out privatization of electricity in the country to the utter detriment of people’s interest as access to electricity is a basic need and it ought to remain as a public utility service under the aegis of the government. But now with the new Bill on the anvil of being enacted anytime, generation, transmission and entire distribution system i.e., the total power infrastructure built up with people’s hard earned tax money is being handed over to the profit-monger corporates on a silver platter. So, these corporate sharks will now sell electricity at an astronomical rate to satiate their greed of profit maximization. In other words, it would be tantamount to depriving of and denying the people access to a basic amenity and their fundamentals rights.
Another point is that electricity is a concurrent subject of central and state governments. Following the footsteps of the central government, many state governments run by the bourgeois parties have initiated to privatize the system of power distribution system in the respective states. But the private operators are not content with this this piecemeal gift. So, in order to privatize the entire power sector system throughout the country the Electricity Bill-2022 has been drafted. The main objective of the Bill is to change the character of electricity from an essential item to a profit-making commodity in the hands of the private owners. Once the Bill is enacted, a steep hike in power tariff will be uniformly made applicable throughout country in the name of ‘‘One Nation, One Tariff’’. Existing subsidies will be abolished. Maximum Power in the matter of Electricity will captured by the Central Government. Character of concurrent subject will be diluted.
There are other vile intentions as well. Proviso 6 of Section 14 of the Electricity Act 2003 provides for licensing of multiple private companies for the distribution of electricity. Now, the Amendment bill of 2022 would widen the vista of privatization. Already, initiative to install smart prepaid meters is underway in West Bengal and various other states. These smart prepaid meters, it is said, are to be installed first in government institutions, then among industrial electricity consumers, followed by commercial, agricultural and household consumers sequentially.
What is new in a smart prepaid meter? First, it will be installed before the distributing company starts supplying power. The consumer will have to deposit money in advance just like a pre-paid cellphone number. Amount of initial deposit would likely to be determined based on the load connected to the power line. Then electricity will be supplied. When the pre-paid money will run out, the power supply will be cut. Secondly, the tariff chart at present is based on a slab system depending on the number of units consumed within a specified period—month or quarter- as the case may be. As all know, units consumed are calculated by subtracting ‘previous reading’ from the ‘current reading’ adding to it energy charge, government duty, meter rent, etc., in a month or quarter are within the knowledge of the consumers. Once the prepaid smart meter is introduced, the components of tariff calculation would become opaque to the consumers.
Other problems will also crop up. In case the meter malfunctions, the consumer will be in the dark about that. So, if there is overbilling, chances of redressal would be remote. Moreover, with a ‘dalal raj’ or a corrupt nexus of unscrupulous contractors, middlemen and the distribution company reigning supreme with impunity, already there are complaints about power not being supplied at contracted voltage and ampere. Days after days, either the transformer or the meter remain dysfunctional, the brunt of which are borne by the hapless consumers. Hence, if smart prepaid meters are introduced disdaining people’s protest, it is scary to think about possible custom er harassment.
Hence, is the need to develop a countrywide organized sustained protest movement against the move to privatize power sector in its entirety. With that end in view, some state-level ‘‘people’s struggle committees’’ have already been formed and a good number of successful protest movements did surge forth to elicit some reliefs to the consumers. For example, after the Assam state government introduced smart meters, the electricity bills of the people of the state went up phenomenally. Naturally, the aggrieved consumers launched powerful protest and compelled the government withdraw the smart meters. Such instances have been there in some other states too.
Now, to coordinate the state level movements and release a united powerful movement, a public committee under the name ‘‘All India Electricity Consumers’ Association’’ has been formed at the initiative power activists round the country. The Association held its first conference in Bhopal on 8 and 9 April last and reportedly was a thumping success. Response has been overwhelming. It is hoped that this Association, as promised, will take up the electricity consumers’ cause in right earnest and compel the governments, both central and of states, to abandon the pernicious policy of privatization of power sector.