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8 lakh-odd powerlooms in Bhiwandi silent for 10 days now

Strike on against the power tariff hike effected three months ago.

Written by SUKANYA SHANTHA | Bhiwandi |
November 16, 2013 12:29:03 am

Eight lakh-odd powerlooms of Bhiwandi that made deafening noise until 10 days ago have now gone silent.

On November 6,the Bhiwandi Powerloom Sangharsh Samiti went on a strike in protest against the hike in power tariff by Torrent Power Limited,a franchise of Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd that provides electricity to Bhiwandi.

Torrent hiked power tariff by 50 per cent to Rs 4.80 per unit three months ago.

“This is an unreasonable hike,” said a 28-year-old powerloom owner Azim Ansari.

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Officials at Torrent Power said they were charging according to the rates fixed by the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission,which is at par with other districts where powerlooms exist. “We are just the executing body,” said an official spokesperson.

Bhiwandi,just second to Ichalkaraji in Kolhapur in textile production with annual turnover of Rs 350 crore,consumes 3,000 lakh units of power annually. It has been a blacklisted town in the MERC’s list for power theft. “A whopping 97 per cent of power was stolen by the powerloom owners here. Only after 2007,when Torrent came in,did the theft stop,” said a senior MERC officer.

While the powerloom owners,some willingly and others forcibly,supported the strike and participated in numerable morchas organised in the town best known as Manchester of Maharashtra,it is the 10 lakh-odd daily wage workers who are suffering the consequences.

For 35-year-old Sriram Kumar,a powerloom worker at Bhiwandi,a week-long strike means loss of Rs 2,500 (on an average,a worker makes Rs 250- 50 a day for a 12-hour shift) and indefinite anxiety. “I haven’t slept well since the mill owner informed me about the shutdown. I have worked in Bhiwandi for over a decade. This is the first time I witnessed a strike.”

Back home in Ghorakpur in Uttar Padesh,Sriram’s family is clueless. “I haven’t told anyone. I cannot return home. I am the only earning member and have to fend for seven people,” he added.

He and four others from Ghorakpur have been surviving on one frugal meal as the local dhaba (eatery joint) has stopped serving them on credit. “We would pay them on the 10th of every month when we received our wages. The hotels don’t want to run a risk by feeding hundreds like us in this area,” said Dinanath,who works at a loom at Sonale village,where loom owners,mostly from affluent Sindhi,Marwadi,Gujarti and Punjabi communities have also joined the protest.

“Do we have a choice (not to join the strike)?” asks Raj Kumar Bakshi,owner of Raj Textiles.

Many said their looms were forcibly shut by local political party activists. “They converged on bikes and went to each factory and forced us to shut,” said a prominent factory owner,requesting anonymity.

Interestingly,all political parties are unanimous on the protest. Rajesh Mhatre,a sitting Shiv Sena MLA from the region,warned of a larger agitation if their demand for subsidised power was not met. “The looms will die if the government does not intervene. Workers who come to Bhiwandi will move to other states,” he said.

“We have shut our units for the past 10 days. The government seems to be unwilling to address our concerns. We have now decided to extend the strike by a further five days which will culminate in a massive Morcha to Mantralaya on October 20,” Bhiwandi Powerloom Sangharsh Samiti president and Congress MP Suresh Tawre said Friday.

“The power tariff for powerlooms in Maharashtra is higher than in states by Rs 2.75 for every unit,which takes the production cost higher than other states and makes the business unproductive. Not many are willing to set up new powerlooms in the state,” state’s Textile Minister Arif Naseem Khan said.

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