The contentious Electricity Amendment Bill was on Monday introduced in the Lok Sabha amid strong protests by the Opposition and farm unions. It was subsequently referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for consultations as farmer bodies, power employee associations and central trade unions (CTUs) threatened nationwide protests.

The government faced stiff opposition to the bill, both inside the Parliament and across the country. While more than 27 lakh power sector employees protested against the Bill on Monday, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and 10 CTUs are scheduled to hold protests on Tuesday.

The Opposition termed the amendments as an act of limiting State government’s autonomy and against the federal structure. They claimed that amendments allow for indiscriminate privatisation of the power distribution sector.

On the other hand, the Power Ministry assured that the amendments are pro-people and for growth of the economy. Emphasising that there is no change in subsidy provisions, the Ministry said States can offer any amount of subsidy, even free power to any category of consumers. Besides, there is no provision affecting farmers. The amendments also strive for stronger State electricity commissions to regulate discoms — public or private. There are also new safeguards against cherry picking.

The amendments

The Bill, if passed by Parliament, will allow the entry of private companies in power distribution and enable consumers to choose from a multiple set of service providers, like for mobile phone services.

The Bill aims to amend Section 14 of the Act — to allow usage of distribution networks by all licensees under provisions of non-discriminatory open access to enable competition, increase efficiency of discoms for improving services. It also seeks to strengthen payment security mechanisms and give more power to regulators.

The Bill also seeks to amend Section 62 to make provisions for a graded revision in tariff over a year. It also provides for amending Section 166 to strengthen functions that will be discharged by the regulators.

Opposition to the Bill

Terming the bill as “dangerous”, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal claimed that it will only benefit a few power distribution companies. “This will make the electricity problem more serious, instead of addressing it. People’s suffering will increase. Only a few companies will benefit. I appeal to the Centre to not bring this (Bill) in haste,” he added.

Through the proposed Bill, the Centre is effectively curbing the right of State governments to regulate tariff as well as distribution, a senior State government official said, adding that States are keen to preserve their “autonomy” and “constitutional right”.

The SKM in a recent statement said withdrawal of the Bill was one of the principal demands of their farmers’ movement.

Meanwhile, CTUs termed the Bill as a prescription for privatising electricity distribution. It needs to be noted that 13 non-BJP State governments have opposed the Bill, it added. CTUs said the Bill will make electricity unaffordable for ordinary people and farmers.

“We, the CTUs, give whole-hearted support to the programme that National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEE) have chalked out and will urge their members to take active part in it. Cease work and hold Demonstrations on August 8 at respective offices. On August 9, take part in demonstrations called by SKU against the bill,” they added.

Congress’ Manish Tewari, in Lok Sabha, said: “The amendment substantially weakens the power of States by allowing multiple private agencies to distribute power in one place. This paves the way for privatisation of profits and nationalisation of losses and usurps the rights of States. The Bill also says that if any State commission is unable to perform its tasks, the Centre can, in consultation with States (not the consent of States), ask another State agency to discharge the tasks.”

Revolutionary Socialist Party’s (RSP) NK Premchandran opposed the Bill in Lok Sabha adding that it allows for indiscriminate privatisation, and is against the constitutional structure of federalism as well as against the tenets prescribed to legislate on subjects that are in the concurrent list.

All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) Chairman Shailendra Dubey has said the claim of providing a choice of multiple service providers to power consumers in the Bill is ‘misleading’ and will make State-run discoms loss making entities.

Many of the States will oppose the implementation of delicensing and appeal to the APTEL (Appellate Tribunal For Electricity) to stall this, as discoms will feel the risk of losing their cream customers, said Arindam Ghosh of Nangia Andersen Leader.