An Imperialist Agent in Pro-people Garb

Globalization and ‘Left’ Front Government — A Fact-sheet



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Electricity Policy: Cringing before Imperialists

Infrastructure is the most important sector necessary for imperialist capital to operate. Power, is the crucial aspect in the infrastructure. It opens avenues for imperialist capital to operate and earn guaranteed, secured profits from the same. The West Bengal Government, aware of this fact, encourages and initiates the process of the entry of private capital in this sector. But, here also it implements the World Bank directives with a note of ‘dissent’! What a democratic aspiration of the government led by a ‘communist party’!

From the very onset of liberalisation, the IMF/World Bank have pressurised for the privatisation of the State Electricity Boards. They assess that SEBs are incurring losses to the tune of Rs. 25,000/- crores each year for the production and distribution of electricity. The World Bank-IMF pursuance resulted in the Electricity Bill 2000 and subsequently the Electricity Act 2003. The salient features of the act are: the SEBs (State Electricity Boards) will have to act as a business organisation; Transmission companies under the Companies Act 1956, will be reconstituted through public and private investment for generation and transmission of power from different Generating Companies; Transmission Companies will enter into agreement with Area Distributor/Purchaser/Retailer for transmission and distribution of power. An Electricity Regulatory Commission (Centre/State) will take policy decisions regarding fixing of tariff/fuel surcharges/cess, taking the reasonable profit element, at every level, into consideration. Before dismemberment of SEBs the respective States will constitute ‘corporations’ (Generation, transmission and Distribution) registered under the company’s act 1956. TRANSCO will come up as the main company after the unbundling of SEBs and all their assets will vest with the State Government. The state government in turn will hand over the assets to the respective stake holders in accordance with the sale deeds. The liabilities of the erstwhile SEBs including the terminal benefits of their employees will be met from the sale value of the assets. Thus received by the government; employees are not entitled to prefer any suit against the Government/Stake holder/SEB for relief or compensation for such transfer in any court. The consumers will have to enter into fresh agreement with the distributors of power, at their own cost etc.58

This bill is a deed of sale of the country’s interests to the MNCs abroad. The central government has proved itself as an enemy of the people. How can the left front government lag behind? It is supposedly implementing the provision of the electricity bill with a voice of ‘protest’!

A booklet entitled "New Electricity Act: Devastation of the people" has been published by CITU, the workers’ front of the CPI(M) on 16.6.2003. The small booklet is written by Shyamal Chakraborty and Prasanta Nandy Chowdhury. The former is member of the West Bengal State Committee and presently CITU President. Hence, regarding the issue it may be taken for granted that we will have an official view of the CPI(M) vis-a-vis the Left Front government.

The booklet starts with a note of despair that the Electricity Bill 2003, was passed by a majority in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and has been turned into an Act. The booklet criticised all the parliamentary parties except the CPI and their party. It patted its own back by stating that Basudev Acharia of the CPI(M) and VV Raghavan of the CPI opposed the bill in parliament. Oh! What a great act of glorification!

The booklet severely criticised the division of SEBs as per the Electricity Act 2003 into three components; Generation, Transmission and Distribution as those are feared to be sold at throw away prices and the concerned state government would be a mere spectator. In the next para the booklet praised the state government for its far-sightedness. It is because West Bengal has divided the SEBs long before the electricity Bill 2003. The SEBs of Bengal was divided into Generation, Transmission and Distribution and rural electrification. In the central bill transmission and distribution are dealt separately and there is a new section for rural power. But, this minute difference in real terms matters less for SEB privatisation. Actually the Bengal government under the cover of ‘left’ phraseology is implementing the provisions of the Central Electricity Act.

The Front government swears to distribute electricity at low cost to the consumers. Hence, the booklet of CITU stated that "while other states are searching for probable buyers, the West Bengal government has started to build up a mega project of 2000 MW at Sagardighi, in Murshidabad .... two projects at Bakreshwar of 2100 MW each etc" The booklet wants to hide the fact that Japan is a partner in the Tista Canal, Bakreswar Project, the British MNC, Rolls Royce, has been collaborating with the government for the Balagarh project. Japan is also with the Purulia pump storage scheme and revamping of the extra high voltage transmission system including a part of the satellite communication. All the above projects were undertaken long before the Electricity Act 2003. All this penetration of foreign capital into the power sector, in the near future will end up in the take-over any of the profitable divisions to the private sector under one pretext or the other.

The above stated CITU booklet severely criticised the system of assuring 16% to 31% profit guarantee to MNCs. The central government will have to give counter guarantee money to the business houses by siphoning away funds from the legitimate demands of state governments. But, what did the left front government do long before? The power purchase agreements (PPA) concluded with MNCs by the West Bengal government are deliberately shrouded in secrecy. The Congress government of Maharashtra has to pay counter guarantee money to Enron. But what about the left front government? The Comptroller and Auditor General has rapped the West Bengal State Electricity Board for extending undue favours to the power utility CESC in it’s latest report tabled in the West Bengal Assembly. The CAG pointed out that the SEB suffered a loss of Rs 204.69 crore due to this benevolence.(The Times of India, 17.3.03) This is the art of deception and betraying the people by one way or another.

Though the Electricity Bill was tabled in 2000 and enacted in 2003, the West Bengal government handed over the responsibility of fixing electricity charges to a separate regulatory commission way back in 1998. Hence the CPI (M), on the one hand accuses the central government Act to raise electricity charges and on the other, became a forerunner in implementing the same, with a cunningness that knew no bounds!.

Recently the CESC is campaigning that thousands of workers will be given VRS; in their words voluntary separation scheme. This will result to decrease the per unit charge of electricity. But at the same time it is demanding money in terms of security, metre rent to give VSS to the employer. The CITU & the state government not only has turned a blind eye to the above vague logic but also it termed any movement against the draconian high electricity charges as creating disturbances and nuisances.

West Bengal is against all nuisances. Hence, since long, it has been paving the way for a labour trouble free SEB. Previously, to run a shift, required five workers. Now, it has been reduced to two per shift. Hundreds of posts, at all levels, in the Board are not being filled up. All these have been recommended by the CPI (M) leader Dipen Ghosh lead Committee, in time with the signing of the Dunkel Draft by the government of India in 1994.59 All are coincidental! On 12th July the University Institute hall CITU declared that the CESC has turned 4500 workers as surplus as per the Central Electricity Act. Later the number was increased to 6000. Actually on 21.1.2003 itself three unions settled with the CESC authorities to shut down the Mulajor unit of the CESC under the pretext of a Supreme Court order. But the Supreme Court order also has a clause of re-employment.60 But, who cares! The New Act turned to be an excuse both for the union and the government.

The left front government is not only playing into the hands of the imperialists and big comprador bourgeois capital, it is a fore-runner in implementing each and every clause of the power sector selling out to MNCs. The people are to suffer. Today, West Bengal has the highest electricity charges/duty. Recently, a cess was imposed to electrify the Sundarban people; nay the Sahara Project of tourism of the Sundarbans. Still, the booklet published by CITU earlier contains only threats and politics of defeatism. They are trying in vain to hide their faces. Actually, they are very much exposed, at least in West Bengal!

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