TRIVANDRUM, India – Widespread protests forced the Kerala state government to cancel steep power rate increases last month. It was the second time the government was forced to back down on increased meter charges and imposed line rent on consumers. The hefty increase in tariff ranged between 40 and 140 percent.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) and the All India Youth Federation (AIYF) were the first to organize a statewide protest on August 29. Day by day the street protests escalated, with more and more parties and organisations joining it.
Police beat AIYF activists with hockey sticks. Thirteen were seriously injured and admitted to the hospital, only after the CPI state secretary intervened.
Police ransacked one CPI office. Police force was misused by the government against protestors from other organisations throughout the state.
Hundreds of CPI and AIYF cadres were arrested and remanded to judicial custody.
This is not the first time the state government, headed by Shri A.K. Antony, misused police force, even resorting to torture. When state government employees went on strike earlier this year, they too faced police repression. There is no such precedent in the recent history of Kerala, which had a Communist and left-led state government, until this year. Kerala is known world-wide for its close to 100 percent literacy rate, and land reform policies – all instituted by the former Communist government.
The state government tried to raise the power tariff under the dictates of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as a condtion for obtaining an ADB loan. One of the ADB’s conditions was privatization of the power sector and a minimum 11 percent profit, to be achieved by any means.
CPI and Left Democratic Front leaders urged that the taxes on industrialists, who are among the major defaulters, be collected. They said there is no justice in putting the entire burden on individual consumers. There are other ways to improve the efficiency of the Kerala State Electricity Board as well, they said.
Even the division bench of the Kerala high court expressed these views after going through the facts in several public interest litigation cases against the power tariff hike.
Soni Thengamom is the president of AIYF. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org