More than a hundred workers gathered under the aegis of the Bhandup Zone Bachav Kruti Samiti for the gate meeting outside the offices of the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd. (MSEDCL) on December 10 in Thane. (This Kruti Samiti includes several unions of electricity workers.) “Workers’ Unity Zindabad!”, “Unity of Adhikari, Engineers, Karmacharis and Janata Zindabad!” “Ambani-Adani Sarkar murdabad!”, “…halla bol! …” Wave after wave of slogans rent the air and further charged up those participating!
The atmosphere had to be electrifying in this gate meeting, for it was organised by the Federation representing all the workers including engineers, linesmen, officers and other staff working in the MSEDCL! Cutting across barriers of union and party affiliation, cutting across the barriers of ‘white’ and ‘blue collar’ workers, engineers, officers, karmacharis, etc. they had gathered at the gate to oppose the impending threat of handing over the Kalwa and Mumbra (suburbs of Thane) power distribution to private hands as well as the restructuring unilaterally decided by the management. Representatives of the CGPI, the Lok Raj Sangathan and Kamgar Ekta Committee who had come in support were welcomed by them all.
The speakers included Com. Krishna Bhoir and Com. Leeleshwar Bansod, leaders of the Maharashtra State Electricity Workers Federation, Shri Jagdale of the INTUC, Shri Vinayak Jadhav of the Veej Kamgar Sena, Shri Devkate of the SEA, Shri Naik of the Veej Kamgar Mahasangh and Shri Dabhade of the Magas Vargiya Sanghatana. Speaker after speaker pointed out that MSEDCL is grossly understaffed. The consumer base keeps on expanding and the revenue multiplying. The workers are grossly overworked. Though there is need for much more staff, for the past few years the government has stopped filling vacant posts. Of the 97,000 sanctioned posts, only 66,000 are filled! And now, without consulting and taking the approval of the workers’ representatives, the administration has hatched up a plan of restructuring that puts the jobs of all categories including engineers and officers at risk! Bhandup Zone, which includes Kalwa and Mumbra generates 25% of revenue, and that is why this experiment of privatisation. If successful, the door will be opened for the privatisation of all the profitable zones in Maharashtra. That is why speakers stressed that it is up to them to prevent that from happening.
Some speakers described the extremely onerous conditions of work. Another described how all the promises made to consumers when the State Electricity Boards were corporatized have remained unfulfilled. The power is neither cheap, nor plentiful, nor universal. In some states, 30% to 40% people are without power! One of the speakers pointed out that Torrent Company that had been handed over power distribution in Bhiwandi had been given hundreds of crores as ‘assistance’ by the government. The people are suffering due to faulty meters, grossly exaggerated bills, highhanded behaviour of the company, and so on. And still the government has renewed the contract with this company that has been blacklisted all over the world!
Speakers bemoaned the fact that the government is out to destroy such a company that had taken up the challenge to restore power to Mumbai city within 24 hours of the floods in 2005! Engineers and others from this company have been called to countries like Japan and USA to help them in the case of blackouts. Another gave the example of UP, where everyone from the Chief Engineer to contract workers had gone on strike to oppose the privatisation of power distribution in 6 metro cities. The CM was forced to promise that no such privatisation would be done in his tenure.
Asked to speak on behalf of all the citizens’ organisations, Dr. Sanjeewani declared that providing basic necessities is the duty of the government, and that profit should not at all be the criterion in the service sector. This was greeted with applause. She pointed out that it was necessary to acquaint the people about the problems they would face with privatisation of basic services and the need to wage a joint struggle by workers and consumers against their privatisation. Several organisations including those present have already taken up the task. Two meetings have been held already in which representatives of a number of organisations met and chalked up a plan to raise public awareness and the work is going on in full swing. She asserted that no force on earth can oppose workers if they unite with those in other sectors and with other citizens.
The plan for the week was explained. The meeting ended with a firm resolve to step up the struggle.