An Energy Regime in Crisis and Urban Unrest – Selections from GWN

November 1, 2013

Gurgaon Workers News

[The following two articles on India’s energy regime and on urban unrest, are excerpted from the October 2013 issue of Gurgaon Workers News – Ed]

Fight the Power: An Energy Regime in Crisis and the Struggle within and against it 

Below you can find a short assessment of the various forces crunching the energy regime in India: the financial crisis, which limits dependency on oil imports; the political resistance against (nuclear) power projects; and the resistance of workers employed on the power plant construction sites. For a more detailed article on class struggle in the coal mining sector in India see: http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no-940/

The falling rupee has meant that India’s increasing reliance on external energy sources (mainly oil and gas) has come under strain. Although India has considerable coal reserves the economy massively depends on cheaper coal imports from other countries, namely Indonesia, Australia and South Africa. Coal is the main source of energy- it, and the electricity it produces, is needed to drive ongoing capitalist development and the growth of the industrial sector, especially as there is not enough domestic natural gas reserves. India is the 4th biggest coal importer after China, Japan and South Korea. But there are risks to such an external reliance. From 1990 to 2010, the net import price for fossil fuels has risen by over 10 per cent and price in rupees has gone up by more than 20 per cent. With a failing Rupee, costs are set to increase further meaning a bigger current account deficit and shrinking foreign currency reserves. This causes problems. In October 2013 Iran’s government refused to accept full Rupee payment for gas exports to India and instead demanded that 55 per cent was paid in US Dollars and Euros. Increasing competition with China for energy sources is also likely.

At this point we can see the structural constraints when it comes to the energy politics of the Indian state: the global financial situation and the price-decline of the Rupee limits the access to oil and gas, while expansion of nuclear power is not only loaded with geo-political power-games (US-Indian nuclear power agreement etc.), but also faces a growing anti-nuclear power movement, which became more politicized after the Fukushima accident. On this background we can understand the current massive investment in coal power plants.

Eight new coal plants are in the pipeline, including one in Tamil Nadu and three in Odisha. The upcoming thermal power plant in Tamil Nadu, a so-called Ultimate Mega Power Project (UMPP), will be using mainly imported coal. We can see a certain division of labour at play: the Coastal Tamil Nadu Power Limited, a subsidiary of Power Finance Corporation Ltd (PFC), a public sector unit, acquires the land (it will need over 400 hectares and 80 per cent of this will be agricultural land). It also conducts the Environmental Impact Assessment and obtains various clearances and then hands over the project to a private party who wins the bid for the project, therefore saving this company the trouble of having to do all the ‘dirty’ preparation and be liable after the sale goes through. There have already been examples of falsified information that is being used to push the project through, especially around the major impacts of the local environment. Other problems include: displacement from agricultural land (although many people wait for a ‘good price’, which is never usually enough to compensate long-term for the process of proletarianisation and low wages); land degradation; the need for a massive water supply, which is already scarce and fuelling conflicts; worsening environmental and health problems; as well as the fact that it will cause rapid changes to local livelihoods as people lose or give up their land for the projects. The Land Acquisitions Bill has not yet come into force but locals have accused the PFC of rushing through the land acquisition process so as to avoid paying the 4 times higher rates that would have to be paid with the new law. In spite of these grand plans to secure energy in India, credit by banks has been tightening because of the future risks of assuring and paying for the ever-increasing costs of imported coal.

While the Gorakhur Nuclear power plant in Haryana is facing a platform of resistance from local activists and NGOs that is delaying the project there is not so much local resistance in Tamil Nadu. If a sizeable resistance does come, it will more likely come from the many fishermen and their families, who do not have land to be compensated for, and who will have to bear the costs of contaminated fish that they send to Chennai, Pondicherry and Kerala. The local population is made up of wage labourers (e.g. brick kiln workers in nearby Chennai), salt-pan workers or fisherfolk, earning between 75 and 100 rupees a day.
(info from: http://www.cheyyur.wordpress.com)

The general situation is fragile, in particular once we look for possible struggle not only ‘outside’ of the industrial projects, but at the same time from within. Below you can find a longer report of a worker who was employed on various huge power and steel plant construction sites all over North-India. You also find a link to an older text of the group wildcat from Germany, which describes the regional political and economical impact of nuclear power plant projects and their effort to organize struggle amongst the co-workers on the construction site. Finally a link to a longer recent interview with a militant oil worker in the UK about organizing on oil platforms.

http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/thekla/11/t11e_kkp.htm

http://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/article-store/the-north-sea-1-the-reaction-to-piper-alpha/

* A workers who has been working on major construction sites in North India
(translated from: Faridabad Majdoor Samachar)

In 2001, after finishing my 10th class, I started working on the Essar Steel plant construction site in Hajira, Gujarat, as a helper. The plant was constructed on 27 square kilometers. More than 50,000 workers were there, all employed through contractor. They paid me 75 Rs for an eight-hours day. After eight hours they forced you to work two, three, four hours more. We had to work on Sundays, too. They paid double for overtime. After six months they increased the wage by 10 Rs, I worked there for a year. There was a problem with the furnace, some people checked it. One day the furnace exploded and covered a dozen workers with liquid metal. I was 100 feet away, working with two fitters. There was a wall between us and the furnace, so we did not get hurt. After the accident the offical account sauid, that two engineers died, but actually a dozen people died. After the Essar plant I worked on the site of Gas Authority (GL) in Bharuch as a fitter. When work was completed there after three months I went back home.

In 2004 I started working as a fitter in Raygarh, Chattisgarh, on the Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. site, spread out on 30 square kilometers. Again, there were about 50,000 workers employed. I was paid between 140 and 160 Rs a day, overtime single rate. For 12-hours shifts I was paid 10,000 a month. I stayed for nine months and then went to Karnataka, Bellari, to a 40 square kilometer site of JSW. There must have been 100,000 workers, 27,000 employed through Larsen and Toubro and the rest through 500 other contractors. There was at least one accident per day. Hands and legs were lost, people died. A guy fell from 60 to 70 meters when his safety belt ripped. Whenever workers see workers die they stop work, otherwise management would just get rid of the body. Normally construction companies don’t keep a register of the workers employed, and therefore no evidence. After one, two hours workers take a decision about what to do. The first reaction often is to beat up senior staff, they often stop working for the rest of the day. Therefore, whenever an accident happens, engineers and managers flee from the site. After an accident no FIR is filed at the police stations. A decision is made between management and workers on the sites itself. In the JSW plant only the engineers have a permanent contract, all workers are temporary, hired through various contractors (RTS, JBTS, ITMS, ITPS). In the plant machines are not supposed to stop running, so maintenance workers have to work on running machines or with electricity switched on. There are a lot of accidents.

I then went to Orissa, to work on the Jindal Stainless Steel plant site, on 10 square kilometers. There were may be 10,000 workers on this smaller site. I was employed there for one and a half years. In the fabrication department a worker was killed by a snapping steel rope. Workers stopped work. They started to beat up senior staff. All managers and contractors fled from the site. When the company agreed to pay 14 lakh Rs to the workers’ family we started working again. Outside the site people protested against displacement and land-grab for the plant. They clashed with the police, people got killed, ten police officers also got killed. They got the Special Police in.

I then moved back from Orissa to Gujarat, Jamnagar, on an Essar Refinery construction site on 56 square kilometers. There were about 100,000 workers. There was combusting of gas, oil, chemicals for plastic, coal. I worked there for six months. Again accidents. Two dumper trucks collided, many workers got seriously hurt or killed. Management got rid of some of the corpses. Then workers clashed with the security guards and got hold of some of their rifles. The special police arrived and could only recover a fraction of the weapons. I then moved on to the Essar Refinery plant site, where people got injured due to gas leaks. On all the construction sites they have set up police stations at the gates.

A recent article from the Times of India confirms the necessity for capital to secure their contested centers of power:

Tension at Angul’s Monnet power plant
TNN Aug 17, 2013,

ANGUL: Tension prevailed at Monnet Power Company Limited (MPCL) at Malibrahmani following a clash between workers of U B Construction, engaged for Monnet, and private security guards deployed by the company. Workers of U B Construction were protesting against non-payment of wages for two months. More than 45 persons were injured, five of them seriously, in the clash. Things took a violent turn in the morning when some workers of U B Construction tried to lock the main gate. Annoyed over the act, security forces allegedly attacked the workers. In retaliation, workers allegedly pelted stones at the security forces.

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Urban Unrest

In GurgaonWorkersNews no.55 we presented a longer text on the class relation of urbanisation in Gurgaon. [This article was published on Sanhati and can be found here.] In this issue we summarise some updates and short news items on Gurgaon’s urban unrest. Feel free to re-read the longer article in order to put things in context.

/// The state’s attempt to grapple with the crisis: Land taxation

The financial situation of the state in India, as elsewhere, is in dire straits. This increases conflicts between different sections of the political class, representatives of capital and the ‘middle-class’. The state of Haryana announced to increase land dues for industrial plots and to introduce a house tax in the villages (house owners in villages have so far been exempt from this taxation). In September 2013 the conflict had a propagandistic climax when Maruti Suzuki announced they would shut their Gurgaon plant because they would have had to pay land dues of allegedly 500 crore Rs. (This planned closure was not actually going to take place). The Haryana state in turn explained that land dues have to be increased in order to pay higher compensations for the local population whose land has been acquired for industrial development. The Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructural Development Corporation (HSIIDC), had acquired land at the rate of 4.13 lakh Rs per acre in 1997 for the development of phases 2, 3 and 4 of Manesar industrial township. This compensation was later raised to about 37 crore RS by the Punjab and Haryana High Court after a petition by the landowners.
A similar problem is being faced by industrialists in other industrial areas of the state such as Rohtak, Bawal, Sonepat, Hisar and Bahadurgarh. The economic feasibility of running business here is getting tougher,” said Arun Gupta, who runs a small garment manufacturing unit at IMT. “Notices of resumption [eviction] are issued to the allottees who have not paid enhancement,” said B B Sharma, general secretary of the Chamber of Industry of Udyog Vihar, who has circulated notes to fellow industrialists in the region asking them to ‘unite and revolt’ against the ‘ghost of enhancement.’
(Times of India, 23rd of September 2013)

/// Credit Crunch: Real estate companies delay projects

Currency decline and subsequent liquidity problems are rattling the real estate companies, resulting in large-scale delays of projects. In Gurgaon, only one-third of the total committed supply for 2013 has been delivered by October 2013. Real estate capital has to start new projects before being able to finish previous ones, just to keep the money flowing. “We are currently looking at an environment wherein developers are obsessed with launching new projects rather than making the completion of existing projects a priority”, Moneycontrol quotes a real estate analyst. The state tries to intervene in the bubble-making, e.g. in July 2013 the Department of Town and Country Planning (DTCP) rejected Parsvnath Developers Limited’s licence renewal application on account of delays in clearing dues running into several crores of rupees for a residential project in Dharuhera near Gurgaon.
(Times of India, 1st of October 2013)

/// A symbol: the public-private conflict about the National Highway 8

No one wants to or can take-over the financial running of the National Highway 8. Six months after the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) announced that IDFC Ltd would buy out a 74 per cent stake in the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway, the deal has been cancelled. IDFC had planned to buy a controlling stake by taking on the debt of Rs 1,600 crore for a token Re 1, but despite this ‘bargain’ the company has now decided to stay away from the business. The necessary bail-out of the current developer will cost about 130 crore Rs tax money. In February 2012 NHAI accused the current developer DSC of being operationally incompetent. One of the point of conflict are the toll-gates: DSC wants to save money when it comes to raising money for developing the highway. They build only a few toll gates, which leads to massive traffic jams, which also impacts on the supply of industrial units with vital parts. An ironic situation. A court-initiated settlement was reached in which DSC was required to construct more toll plazas along the expressway to ease traffic. In October 2013 DSC was charged with fraud: siphoning off toll money by under-reporting traffic. According to NHAI, the under-reporting caused NHAI a loss of Rs 24 crore between August 2012 and July 2013. Less ironic, but rather tragic is the fact that the developer also saves money when it comes to saving lives. There has been a 48 per cent increase in road accident cases on the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, compared to the corresponding period last year, according to the data available for the first six months of the year. During the first half of 2013, 223 people were killed on the roads of Gurgaon. The reason for high incidence of pedestrian death is the lack of foot overbridges. The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) recently sanctioned Rs 2 crore to PWD to build a foot overbridge at Hero Honda Chowk – this is more than half a decade after the opening of the highway.
(Times of India, 1st of August 2013)

/// A Taksim Square situation in the making: corruption scandal in Gurgaon’s real estate

In August 2013 the UPA government announced that the dubious land-deals of Sonia Ghandi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra in the Gurgaon area don’t require further judicial inquiries. The case shows a deep intertwinement between the political class and real estate accumulation, something which caused explosive situations in the current condition of social crisis, e.g. in Turkey in summer 2013. Khemka, a former public administration official and now ‘anti-corruption’ figure, had raised the issue of the transfer of large chunks of panchayat (village council) land, worth hundreds of crores, to newly created realtor companies under the garb of consolidating fragmented landholdings. In one case in Ankhir village in Faridabad district, he points out how the then Deputy Commissioner cornered a prime plot after partitioning panchayat land in favour of his mother, who happened to be the Chief Minister’s aunt. The phoney land deals of Robert Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality company includes major transaction with DLF, India’s biggest real estate developer and ‘creator’ of new Gurgaon.

/// General signs of urban unrest

The general financial contractions and the involvement of the political class as a rentier class causes social friction, which comes to the fore in various moments, which sometimes seem unrelated to each other.
* On 25th of June 2013 five security guards deployed by a developer in Sector 62 were badly injured by the villagers of Kartarpur and nearby areas. More than 70 villagers came in large numbers after security guards of the developer refused them to use the government PWD road. Villagers allege that the developer had employed bouncers with 9mm pistols on their temporary office premises and prevented the villagers from using the public road. “They used to frighten villagers so that we sell our land to them,” said Rajpal Dayma, a resident of Kartarpur.

* On 21st of June 2013 hundreds of upper-class residents of Gurgaon protested against waterlogging problems in their respective areas and gheraoed (encircle) Huda administrator Praveen Kumar in the courtyard of his office in Sector 14. The protesters also shouted slogans against senior town planner R K Singh. They called him an agent of the builder mafia of Gurgaon.

* On 30th of July 2013 the newly appointed deputy commissioner, Shekar Vidyarthi, has written to civic agencies like the MCG and HUDA not to directly approach the police department seeking protection during anti-encroachment [illegal settlements] drives. “As it is, it is a big struggle for us to get even the minimum police force every time we go to remove encroachments, and on top of it, this high-handedness will not help matters,” said a senior MCG official. “Just a few months ago, when our team went to demolish an illegal house 900 metres away from the IAF depot area, the mob turned violent and attacked our employees. They started throwing stones from rooftops and our men were injured. Apart from this, our vehicles were completely burnt down.”

* On 3rd of August 2013 aggrieved residents from several sectors and nearby villagers blocked the main road at Khandsa Chowk near Sector 10A to protest against the non-fulfillment of their long-standing demands by the municipal corporation. Hundreds of protesters from nearby villages arrived in buses and assembled under the banner of the Samaj Vikas Samiti. “If nothing is done about this issue by August 9, we will once again come out and jam the highway in protest of both MCG and HUDA,” said Yudhvir Singh, an activist, who has been a part of the citizens’ drive pushing for repair works and the construction of an underpass at the Hero Honda Chowk.

* On 25th of August 2013 an angry mob stoned a team of Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG) officials who had gone to carry out demolition of illegal plots in Basai enclave near Basai village. The mob set fire to a tractor, a jeep and two government officials’ cars belonging to Joint Municipal Commissioner Veena Hooda and Executive Engineer Raman Sharma of the MCG. The protesters smashed around 12 other cars and blocked the Basai-Dhankot road for two hours. The 110 police men who had arrived with the officials had to retreat. “We tried reasoning with them but they turned violent and attacked us. They thrashed us and threatened to kill us. We had a narrow escape,” said an official.

* On 25th of August 2013 police opened fire in the air in an attempt to disperse hundreds of villagers, who torched vehicles and broke windowpanes of passing trains as they blocked roads and the Delhi-Rewari rail route in the Pataudi area to protest a man’s murder by cattle thieves. Over half a dozen policemen were injured in the clashes. The condition of two of them was stated to be critical. Villagers hit out at alleged negligence and inaction of the police against cattle thieves, who have been active in the area for the last few years.

* On 11th of September hundreds of students, who were declared failed in various first and second year courses, broke open the main gates of Amity University in Manesar and stopped varsity staff and other students from entering the campus.

* On 2nd of October a group of CNG auto drivers continued their protest for the second consecutive day against Gurgaon police, accusing them of harassment through unjustified penalties and detentions. The protest turned violent at times. Even as the ongoing protest by auto drivers in the city has started to take a violent turn, Gurgaon police are in no mood to give in to their ‘unjustified’ demands. Several CNG auto drivers went off the roads and forced many autos to stop midway and even smashed windscreens to register their anger against the ongoing penalty drive by Gurgaon police and their alleged detentions for verification in police stations.

 

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