After 15 Lakh power employees boycotted work for a full day on October 5th, the Yogi Adityanath Government in Uttar Pradesh decided to postpone selling the Purvanchal Power Distribution Corporation (a subsidiary of UP Power Corporation Limited) to a private corporate. The proposed plan was part of the Modi Government’s nationwide project of privatising electricity distribution companies (discom).
Based on a call for action put forth the Vidyut Karmachari Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, government employees in the power department in Uttar Pradesh began an indefinite work boycott on Monday. This resulted in long power cuts in many parts of the state. Essential services were still running as the unions separated them from the protest.
On October 6th, representatives of UP Power Corporation and the Vidyut Karmachari Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti and related trade unions met and came to a compromise. They agreed on five points, including halting privatisation.
However, the issue of privatisation has not completely ended as the Government will hold monthly review for three months, till January 15th, on the matter.
Discom Protests: Yogi-Modi state plunged into darkness
The most affected area is Purvanchal, where the proposal of privatisation of the distribution corporation was first cleared by the Yogi government.
Yashwant Singh from Ghazipur district near Banaras, wrote on facebook,
“I am in Ghazipur. It is a bad situation. Water, fan- everything has stopped. Even the inverter isn’t working anymore. There’s public outcry as everyone is discussing the strike. The issue of privatisation has reached the public. The BJP people are just trying to hide face. Farmers need water for paddy. Even tube wells have stopped”
Similarly, Aditya Srivastava wrote that most of Gorakhpur is in chaos due to lack of electricity.
There are similar reports from Banaras and Allahabad. On social media, people stated that there wasn’t electricity in their cities for 36 hours. Workers Unity also reports that some places had demonstrations regarding the same.
When the employees decided to boycott work for the whole day, accountants took charge of the substations. In many places, including Gorakhpur, incidents of suspending engineers were reported.
As a result of this, the anti-privatisation gained traction and support, with many people questioning the intentions of the government on social media.
Key points of the agreement
- The proposal to privatise Purvanchal Power Distribution Corporation is withdrawn. No proposals for any other arrangements will be under consideration with regards to discom. Improvements will be made with the consent of the employees within the present system of power distribution corporations of UP. No other power distribution corporation will be privatised in Uttar Pradesh without the consent of the employees.
- Employees and management will work together to improve the existing power distribution system.
- Vidyut Karmachari Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti will cooperate in: 1. making the distribution sector corruption-free 2. making billing and collection efficient 2. fully satisfying consumers while taking meaningful steps to make power sub-stations Aatmanirbhar and self-sufficient.
- The above points will be reviewed monthly till 15 January in this financial year, and the Energy Minister, Management and Employees Union will take part in the same.
- No action will be taken against any employee, engineer or contract worker who participated in the anti-privatisation movement. The government will unconditionally withdraw the cases they filed against electrical workers, contract workers, junior engineers and officials of the Sangharsh Samiti during this period.
Issue of privatisation & discom not yet finished
The press release of the agreement does not discuss the governments plans regarding privatisation.
In villages in UP, private electricity meters are being installed near farmers’ tubewells. Poles and metres of private power companies have also been installed in many villages. Billing processes have been handed over to private companies in substations. Because of this, consumers are complaining about their bills doubling in payment.
Moreover, this issue isn’t unique to UP. On September 20, the central government sent orders to all states to disband the public sector discom and hand them over to private companies. Earlier, the Government took steps to dismantle the Purvanchal Bijli Vitran Nigam in Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Benaras. This too was met with dissent, and the UP Government had to halt plans.
Therefore, there has been dissent from power workers across the country. The Federation of Karnataka Electricity Board Employees Union and Associations held demonstrations outside the power corporation’s headquarters in Karnataka.