Jan Sangarsh Morcha Press Release
  17 February 2003
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Struggle begins against hike in electricity tariffs, farmers launch civil disobedience movement; We shall fill not bills but jails

Jail Road, Mandleshwar
District Khargone, Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 07283-33162
Email: nobigdam@sancharnet.in
Near Bohra Masjid, Betul, MP
Tel: 07141-33971

Farmers to rally on the 27th February at Mandleshwar

In the last few days, hundreds of farmers from the districts of Khargone, Dhar and Badwani in Western Madhya Pradesh have refused to pay their increased electricity bills that have just come in, after the second increase in power tariffs in the last two years, and have declared that they intend to undertake civil disobedience against the state. Since the increased electricity bills are outside the farmer's paying capacities, large masses of farmers have decided to take the path of struggle with the rallying cry- We shall fill the jails, not the bills. ("Jail Bharenge,bill nahi") The Jan Sangharsh Morcha and the Nimad Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan demand that the state government immediately take back the electricity tariff increase and cancel the anti-people agreement on the power sector with the Asian Development Bank.

It may be noted that as a consequence of the agreement of the State and Central governments with the Asia Development Bank signed in November 2001, in the last two years there have been huge increases in the electricity tariffs in the state. Because of the tariff increase the bills that the farmers of Madhya Pradesh received at the increased tariffs in the last fortnight are at least 70% above the earlier bills. At the same time, the number of hours that the farmers will receive electricity for paying these increased sums has decreased to only 6 hours a day. In comparison to last year's tariffs that were applicable for 24 hours a day, the increase in tariffs has been 300%. It may be noted that as per the Human Development Report 2002 of the Planning Commission, Madhya Pradesh is one of the states in the country with the lowest per capita income. Yet, the electricity tariffs of Madhya Pradesh are higher than those of Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, Rajasthan and many other states. It may be noted here that the Energy Reforms Act, 2001 has stated that the determination of electricity tariffs will be done on the basis of the paying capacities of the consumers. Yet, clearly, this was not followed by the Regulatory Commission.

"We shall fill the jails, not the bills"

The farmers of Madhya Pradesh express shock and anger at receiving the increased bills. The WTO regime brought in by the Central government has had massive impacts on the agricultural sector, with deregulation of imports has led to the flooding of the markets with cheap foreign agricultural commodities, heavily subsidized by their own countries, which has led to falling prices for these farm sector commodities on one hand, and the removal of almost all subsidies in the agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides for Indian farmers on the other. As a result of this pincer action, very large numbers of farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and Kerala have started committing suicide. Now, in addition to falling prices of crops and increasing costs of inputs, by denying access to electricity to the farmers of Madhya Pradesh through the massive increase in tariffs, the farmers of this state are also being brought on the verge of pauperization and despair.

It may be noted that soon after the MPSEB filed the second tariff petition asking for huge increases in electricity tariffs, the farmers of Madhya Pradesh had opposed it during the Bijli Bachao  Azadi Bachao yatra conducted all through the state by the Jan Sangharsh Morcha and the Nimad  Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, and stated that this tariff increase would not be acceptable to them. Now thousands of farmers in hundreds of villages of Khargone, Dhar and Badwani have resolved not to pay these unjust bills. They have resolved that they will carry out a civil disobedience campaign against the government, refuse to pay their bills, rather they would fill the jails of Madhya Pradesh , as the occasion arises. Farmers in a number of other districts are also joining the struggle.

Tariff increase unnecessary and unjustified

The tariff increases that have been brought in the agricultural and domestic sector were completely unnecessary in terms of increasing the efficiency and the viability of the power sector in Madhya Pradesh. The MPSEB asked for a total additional revenue of Rs. 636 crores to be mobilized from the tariff increases proposed in the last tariff petition. But this same revenue could have been generated from the following sources.

1. Had the MPSEB simply implemented the first tariff order that stipulated higher Plant Load factors and lower transmission and distribution losses, the MPSEB would have been able to make an annual saving of Rs. 1500 crores.

2. Had the government collected outstanding dues, most of them due from industry and corporate sources , this would have yielded Rs. 1000 crores.

3. Last year, the state government declared that it would give Rs. 400 crores subsidy to the State Electricity Board but it failed to do so. As a result, the MPSEB had to pay a fine of Rs. 400 crores. Had the state government actualized their commitment , it would have saved the Board Rs. 400 crores.

Last year, the Madhya Pradesh government also waived the taxes of corporates like Coca cola and Bajaj to the extent of Rs. 150 crores last year and Rs. 340 crores as subsidies to the road building contractors of Madhya Pradesh. Thus, it is amply clear that the electricity tariffs have certainly not been increased because of fragile economic status of the state government.

Regulatory Commission indicts the Electricity Board , punishes consumers

The Regulatory Commission have clearly stated in their current order that the State Electricity Board has either failed or only marginally complied with their earlier orders and if this situation remains, the Regulatory Commission will have to take action against the Board. Yet, it is the consumers that the Commission has punished by hugely increasing the existing tariffs for the agricultural and domestic sectors. The Regulatory Commission have also stated in their order that they are not aware of the agreement regarding the power sector with the Asia Development Bank because the state government is yet to submit it to them (never mind, that the present Chairman of the Regulatory Commission is the Former Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh who was a signatory to the ADB agreement), where as per the conditions of the ADB loan agreement, another tariff increase is due in the June of 2003, only a few months away.

Tariff increase because of collusion of foreign capital with state and Central governments against the common people

The developed countries who want to exercise control over our markets are working through multilateral banks like the Asia Development Bank and the World Bank to impose such conditionalities on our governments to ensure that the entire power sector passes into the hands of the foreign multinationals. As a result of these conditions where on one hand, that the Electricity Board is to be fragmented and transferred to private corporates, on the other hand, by increasing the electricity tariffs, the agricultural sector and the entire production economy of Madhya Pradesh is to be decimated. A legal regime that can preside over this has already been passed in Madhya Pradesh in the form of the Energy Reforms Act, 2001, and the same sort of black law is presently under debate at the national level. It is clear enough that the Madhya Pradesh and Central governments have no concern about Indian farmers and workers of this country and are colluding with foreign capital to subordinate the public interests of the common people of this country.

The Jan Sangharsh Morcha- the common forum of the people's organizations of Madhya Pradesh as well as the Nimad "Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan" demand that both the power tariff increases made in 2000 and 2001 that has resulted in thousands of farners having to leave the grid be immediately reversed, that the anti-people agreement with the Asia Development Bank be cancelled and that electricity available in sufficient quantities with the NTPC and the Eastern Grid should be bought by the state government to fulfill the energy needs of the state. If the above demands are not met, the farmers and workers of the state intend to intensify their agitation and take it to the entire state. On the 27th of February, thousands of farmers and workers will gather at Mandleshwar in District Khargone to protest against this electricity tariff increase and the subordination of the public interest to the corporate interests of global capital.

Alok Agarwal Vijay Panda Suresh Patidar
Narmada Bachao Andolan Jan Sangharsh Morcha Nimad Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan
Convenor Adivasi Mukti Sangathan
Jan Sangharsh Morcha