Members of Lok Raj Sangathan attended a protest action organised by the Delhi Residents Welfare Association Joint Front on Saturday, 6th August 2005 in South Extension, New Delhi. Hundreds of people came to the meeting from as far away places as Rohini. The organisers urged all participants to wear black bands, as a sign of protest against the Delhi government for doing little to protect the rights of the ordinary citizens of Delhi.
The problems faced by residents were enumerated on a banner on the stage. “Meter Terrorism” – the forcible installation of new faulty electricity meters by the private power distribution companies – topped the list. Others problems highlighted were: inflated bills, unjust tariff hike and monopoly in power and water distribution.
Lt. Col Bakshi opened the meeting; he pointd out that various political parties wanted to exploit the anger of the residents for their own narrow aims and declared on behalf of the Joint Front that this was the initiative of the residents, and leaders of various political parties would be welcome only as audience and not on the dais.
Shri Tandon of the Joint Front recounted the experience of the joint struggles of the RWAs over the years, starting from the cable TV issue to the issue of property taxes to the current issues of electricity and water tariffs. He also informed the participants about the recent meeting the Joint Front had with the Delhi CM. The CM had assured them that if the private companies did not rectify the problems pointed out by the residents, then the Government would deal with them sternly. He complained that even government created bodies like DERC were not oriented to serve the public. He reiterated the uncompromising stand of the Joint Front to oppose the recent steep hikes in the water and electricity tariffs. He declared that there would be no dilution of these demands and that the Joint Front would launch a civil disobedience movement if the Govt. failed to fulfill its duty towards citizens.
Shri Kejriwal of Parivartan raised the issue of the reforms to water services being insidously brought in by the Delhi government. In the name of providing 24×7 water supply, the government was following the path of privatisation of water distribution. He said that a recent World Bank sponsored consultant has suggested handing over the 21 water supply distribution zones of Delhi to multi-national water companies. According to this proposal, DJB would have to pay more than Rs. 120 crores per year towards the salaries of experts that will be hired by the water companies. He pointed out that the whole scheme was loaded in favour of the private companies at the expense of the city’s residents and the DJB. He pointed out that implementation of these proposals would lead to hefty increases in the water bills of the consumers and many poor people would not be able to afford their water connections altogether. He said that the international experience of privatisation bears out this fact.
Ms. Bhargava of Defence Colony RWA echoed popular sentiment when she declared that RWAs were not begging the Government but were demanding their rights. She voiced the demand that the government make all documents of contracts and deals public. She said that people must be consulted at all steps. She suggested that a small committee could be formed by the residents where the basic standard of a service can be laid down. For example, if load shedding were unavoidable, then the load shedding had to done in a planned manner and had to be declared in advance. If there were unscheduled power outages, then the affected residents had to be compensated by the power company. Many in the audience applauded her spirited demand that power cuts must be shared by all Delhi residents alike, and that Lutyens Delhi must not be spared. Similarly, the fast running meters must be checked by an independent agency and fast running meters must be compensated for retrospectively.
Shri Agrawal of the Joint Front expressed his unhappiness over the fact that while, before the trifurcation of Delhi Vidyut Board in 2002 and handing over the distribution of electricity to the Ambanis and Tatas, the government claimed that consumers would benefit with reduced costs and better service, people’s experience with power monopolies has been quite the opposite. He condemned the privatisation on this score. Shri Robi Chopra said that privatisation had failed the 60,000 residents of Vasant Vihar locality and that they had put the Delhi government on notice on this issue. Shri L N Gupta said that the experience of privatisation of electricity in Orissa had clearly shown the effect of unbundling of the electric supply and distribution. What was happening to Delhi electricity supply was predictable. His view was that the private companies are only interested in reaping huge profits and not in the least bit interested in investing to improve the service.
As of publishing of this report, 10 days after the protest meeting, the RWAs Joint Action has announced its next meeting to decide on its future plan of action. This has become necessary as the Delhi government has not taken back the hike in tariff and has failed to keep its promises to the citizens.