KOLKATA: Protesting the Centre's decision to introduce the "anti-people" Electricity (Amendment) Bill in Parliament, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to refrain from "initiating" the legislation.
The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seeks to enable power consumers to choose from multiple service providers as in the case with telecom services.
According to the Lok Sabha bulletin issued on July 12, 2021, the government has listed it as one of the 17 new bills it plans to introduce in the ongoing Parliament session.
Banerjee, on her part, requested the PM "to ensure that a broad-based and transparent dialogue on the subject is opened up at the earliest".
She underscored that the bill would reduce the role of the state public utility bodies and foster "crony capitalism".
"I write this letter to re-lodge my protest against the Union Government's fresh move to place the much-criticised Electricity (Amendment) Bill in Parliament.
It was proposed to be moved last year, but many of us had underlined the anti-people aspects of the draft legislation, and at least I had detailed out all the salient pitfalls of the Bill in a letter to you on June 12, 2020," she wrote.
The CM had written to Modi last year expressing outrage over the draft legislation, which, she said, was an attempt by the Centre to "destroy" the country's federal structure.
"The Bill was then not moved and I had believed that wider consultations with stakeholders would now be initiated for a consensual view on the sensitive subject at hand.
I am stunned to hear that the Bill is coming back without any consideration for our reservations, and in fact with some graver anti-people features this time," she maintained.
Banerjee also said that the bill aims "to provide plural choices to the consumers", but, in reality, it will lead to enhancements in tariffs, causing problems for every strata of the society.
She further stated that "power is too important a sector for such unilateral interferences, especially when electricity as a subject is in the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India and any legislation on a subject in such a list needs serious prior consultation with the states".
"In the present case, there has been some tokenism of consultations, but no real exchange of views, which is antithetical to the federal structure of our polity."
The Electricity Act 2003 had struck a fine balance between the Centre and the states in the management of the power sector, while the proposed amendment strikes at the root of that federal architecture, she wrote.
The CM claimed that the new legislation intends to make the entire state electricity grid an appendage of the National Grid.
"The reduction of the role of the state public utility bodies, the unchecked enhancement of the role of private corporate bodies, and the curtailment of the authority of the states in the power sector together imply a sinister design, whereby crony capitalism will get nourishment at the cost of the states, the public sector and the common people at large," she said.
Banerjee also alleged that the "dilution of the role of the State Electricity Regulatory Commission and the State Distribution Companies implies a political design to demolish state bodies and domestic industries.
"Direct interference by the central government in activities involving distribution will not at all be helpful for taking care of the interest of common people and the states," she added.