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Left lobby meets PM on private power

Our Political Bureau  |  New Delhi 

A group of power workers, engineers and economists, led by prominent Left leaders met the prime minister yesterday to oppose the complete privatisation of the power sector and to press for a review of the Electricity Act 2003 mentioned in the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP).
" It was a productive meeting. We discussed the electricity industry and the prime minister has said he will be taking up our reservations with the power minister," said AB Bardhan, general secretary, Communist Party of India (CPI).
Maintaining that the common minimum programme had stated that the electricity act "will be reviewed," Bardhan said after the meeting that "the consequences of implementing the Act, particularly on rural electrification through removal of cross-subsidy and subsidy, should be brought out and placed before the JPC."
Asserting that the law had brought "disaster" to the power industry and also recommended "unbundling" of the state electricity boards (SEBs), he said till the JPC finalised its report, "further unbundling of SEBs and corporatisation be held in abeyance".
Bardhan and Balanandan, who also represent national level power employees' federations, said the experience of privatisation in Delhi and Orissa and the US multinational Enron's case in Maharashtra, showed that private operators had failed to fulfil their contract and the problems of power shortages and high tariffs continued.
The delegation presented a memorandum to the prime minster, detailing their objections, among other things, to the unbundling of the State Electricity Boards (SEBs).
They also presented an alternative framework to the existing Electricity Act 2003.
"The prime minister told us that there was no plan to completely privatise the sector and that both public as well and private players would operate in the market," said Balanandan, Politburo member, CPI (M).
Bardhan said the delegation also pointed out the "anomalies" in the Electricity Act regarding cross -subsidisation to the prime minister.
The Left parties have been demanding a review of the Act, given that it questions the need for cross- subsidising farmers and domestic households by increasing power tariffs in the industrial sector.
The meeting saw the issue of techno-economic clearance being discussed. The present Act requires that only hydroelectric projects be vetted by the Central Electricity Authority for techno-economic clearance. The delegation demanded that the clearance be obtained for all projects.
The Left also expressed its objections to dividing the country into urban and rural zones for power generation as suggested in the Electricity Act 2003.
" We cannot leave the farmers to their fate. Panchayats cannot be expected to generate electricity," Bardhan said.

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First Published: Wed, September 08 2004. 00:00 IST