Jan Sangarsh Morcha Press Release
  15 November 2002
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

"Bijli Bachao - Azadi Bachao yatra" organized by Jan Sangarsh Morcha begins in Indore today; MPSEB must withdraw petition: People will struggle until government concedes

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

The fortnight long "Bijli Bachao - Azadi Bachao yatra" organized by the common forum of people's organizations in Madhya Pradesh - the Jan Sangarsh Morcha and the Nimad-Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan in response to the recent proposed hike in electricity tariffs at the instance of the Asian Development Bank began in Indore today. This yatra will travel through almost 22 districts of Madhya Pradesh for the next two weeks before culminating in a large protest rally in Bhopal on the 30th of November.

Nearly 100 women and men, farmers and activists will travel through the state for the next two weeks creating awareness about the anti-people power sector reforms being carried out at the instance of the global financial institutions and mobilizing the people to come together to fight the anti-people policies of this government. The yatra began with a dharna at the Regal Talkies Chauraha at Indore today. Along with the yatris numerous trade union activists, lawyers and other concerned citizens of Indore were also present. The dharna ended with a rally from the Regal Chauraha to the Commissioner's office where a written call was sent to the state government through the Office of the Commissioner.

Speaking at the dharna, Shri Alok Agarwal, senior activist and convener of Jan Sangarsh Morcha said that the state government has filed its rejoinder, in the front of the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Regulatory Commission two days ago after facing enormous public opposition to the proposed tariffs. In its rejoinder the state government has proposed 10 to 40% tariff hikes. This stand of the state government in front of the Regulatory Commission is weak, inadequate and extremely damaging to the interests of the people of this state. It is also an attempt to mislead the people of the state. It is clear that the people of the state will not stand this violation of their interests. The Jan Sangharsh Morcha demands that the Madhya Pradesh government must withdraw its anti-people petition and until such time the popular struggle on this question would continue.

He said that the situation on the ground is that the common people of Madhya Pradesh have not been able to withstand the tariff hike effected last year, let alone have any capacity to absorb any further tariff hike. In fact, lakhs of farmers and poor people have had their electricity disconnected because they have been unable to pay their large bills inflated after last year's tariff hike. This means not only darkness in their homes, but loss of livelihoods for subsistence farmers dependent on the monsoons, and ensuing starvation deaths. On the other hand, as per reports, the Finance Department of the Government of Madhya Pradesh itself has submitted a very critical scrutiny of the MPSEB's petition, and has stated that financial crisis facing the MPSEB is due to the Board's own management failure, and that the MPSEB second tariff petition is inappropriate.

Given the inability of the common people of the state to bear the impact of the first tariff hike as well as the adverse appraisal of the MPSEB's proposal by the Finance department of the GOMP, the only reasonable course open to the Madhya Pradesh government was to ask for a complete withdrawal of the tariff petition in public interest. But the Madhya Pradesh government chose not to do so, because of the conditionalities of the Asian Development Bank. Thus, the state government subordinated the interests of the people of the state to global financial interests.

After the proposal of the MPSEB to increase the electricity tariffs for various consumer segments from 50% to 600% became public and the focus of intense public opposition, the state government filed its rejoinder two days ago in front of the MPSERC in which it has suggested a lesser increase of 10 to 40%. In light of the fact that the report of the Finance Department of the Madhya Pradesh government has conceded that the tariff petition of the MPSEB is flawed, it is wrong and inappropriate on part of the state government to suggest any increase and cannot be justified at all. It may be noted that any petitioner can at any time withdraw his/her petition from a Court of law and thus there is no legal bar on the MPSEB withdrawing its petition.

Instead what the Madhya Pradesh government has chosen to do is to propose a less outrageous but still substantive rise in the electricity tariffs. If the Regulatory Commission gives a half way judgment between what the MPSEB has proposed and what the state government has suggested, the state government has the devious advantage of saying that its own suggested increases were modest but that since the Regulatory Commission is "independent", the state government cannot be held responsible for any large tariff hikes suggested by them. On the other hand if the proposal itself had been totally withdrawn, there would not have been the possibility of any tariff hike AT ALL.

The dharna was addressed by Shri Kalyan Jain, Ex- Member of Parliament, and Shri K.R.Yadav of Samajwadi Party, Shri Chandrapal Yadav of AITUC, Shri Kuwarsingh of Dalit Jagrut Adivasi Sangathan, Shri Ramsingh of Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, Shri Ramdas from CPM , Shri Subir Bharatiya, LIC Employees Association, Rajendra Bajaj of Madhya Pradesh Finance Corporation Employees Association, and Smt. Punibai and Shri Mangat Verma of Jan Sangharsh Morcha. It was conducted by Shri Vasant Shintre, Chairperson of Abhyas Mandal , Indore.

All speakers in the yatra demanded that the current petition must be withdrawn. They expressed concern that thousands of poor people and farmers have had their electricity disconnected after last years's tariff hikes because of their inability to pay their bills, and that therefore there is a pressing need to roll back last year's tariff increase. In the circumstances, the any proposal to increase the tariffs by any proportion is unacceptable and can only break the people of Madhya Pradesh.

The speakers said that that the anti-people agreement of the Madhya Pradesh government with the Asian Development Bank must be scrapped. They also demanded that the state government must immediately stop torturing the people of the state through the farce of " load shedding " and must purchase available cheap electricity from Chattisgarh, NTPC and the Eastern grid to fulfill the needs of the electricity consumers of Madhya Pradesh.

The Bijli Bachao-Azadi Bachao yatra of the Jan Sangharsh Morcha that began in Indore today will travel through Dewas, Ujjain, Ratlam, Dhar, Badwani, Khargone, Khandwa, Harda, Betul and Hoshangabad before culminating in a huge rally in Bhopal on the 30th of November, 2002. Another yatra will begin on the 23rd of November and travel through Jabalpur, Dindori, Mandla, Seoni, Chiindwada and Narsinghpur before reaching Bhopal.

Chittaroopa Palit
Mangat Verma