|Motorcycle rally against power tariff hike in Malegaon|
Monday, November 11, 2013
Indian textile towns strike against power tariff hike
MALEGAON, India (AA) - Thousands of slogan-shouting powerloom weavers on Monday marched on their motorcycles through the narrow lanes of Malegaon, a textile town 300kms north of Mumbai, to protest a recent government hike in power tariff.
"We will no longer tolerate the double-standard policy of the state's government," Asad Zeeshan, a small-time powerloom weaver who joined the motorcycle rally, told Anadolu Agency.
The middleclass weaver owns 24 powerlooms – a weaving machine invented by Edmund Cartwright way back in 1785 and is still in vogue in a developing country like India.
"Beginning tomorrow, there will be complete shutdown of Malegaon’s powerloom industry for six days," Zeeshan said.
Malegaon will become the third textile town to join a call for voluntary strike over the recent decision of the Maharashtra State's government to hike power tariff.
On September 5, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission, a government-appointed body, increased the power tariff per unit from Rs. 3 to Rs. 4.40.
Bhiwandi, a textile town 60kms north of Mumbai, began a ten-day strike from November 6.
Icchalkaranji, another textile hub 425kms southeast of Mumbai, followed suit on November 7.
On October 18, people in 70 places in 20 districts participated in a unique protest of burning power bills.
Mufti Mohammed Ismail, the state legislator from Malegaon, came down heavily on the state's government.
"According to one estimate, government collects Rs.2000 tax annually per powerloom while it only gives the subsidy of Rs.750 in power tariff," he told AA.
"The state government is testing the tolerance of more than a million people in three different textile towns," he fumed.
According to the Federal Textile Ministry, Bhiwandi, Icchalkaranji and Malegaon are the three most important powerloom clusters mainly controlled by Muslim weavers.
Out of total 2.4 million powerlooms in India, Maharashtra State has 1.2 million powerlooms.
Bhiwandi boasts at least 600,000 powerlooms while Icchalkaranji and Malegaon, once known as the Manchester of Maharashtra, each has approximately 150,000 powerlooms.
Mahavitaran, the power distribution company, denied accusations of exploiting hapless weavers.
"We have improved the power distribution and have successfully brought down the company’s loss," an official told AA on the condition of anonymity.
"It is the Regulatory Commission who decides the power tariff not us," he said.
Faizan Azmi, a veteran powerloom expert and chairman of the Bhiwandi-based Maharashtra State Powerloom Federation, a textile NGO, urged the state government to reconsider its position.
"The state government must resolve this issue at the earliest because the powerloom industry is literally in doldrums," Azmi told AA.
Dr. Rehan Ansari, a political commentator from Bhiwandi, says small weavers will suffer the most because of the shutdown as their earnings entirely depend upon the production.
He does not expect a solution soon.
"It is highly unlikely that a favorable decision will be taken by state government," he told AA.
"At the most, they will adopt conciliatory tone and try to delay this under one pretext or another as the shutdown or strike is not indefinite," he added.
Ansari says that the government may delay the issue of power tariff by appointing a review committee.
Pratap Hogade, Secretary of Icchalkaranji-based Indian Powerloom Federation, said the power tariff in Maharashtra is almost double than other states.
He accused the state's government of adopting delay tactics.
"On October 23, a cabinet meeting was called and a committee was formed to resolve this issue," he recalled.
"There has been no word from the committee yet. State is adopting delay tactics to sabotage this mass protest," Hogade charged.
"We immediately want a stay on the tariff hike. The state committee can take from 6 months to 6 years to decide."
Azmi, the industry activist, says so far there is no sign that the state's chief minister has intervened in the matter.
"Efforts must be made to include powerlooms under the category of ‘domestic industry’," he asserted.
"Hundreds of thousands of people, including migrant laborers from North India, will be jobless if this industry collapses," he warned.
But Rasheed Tahir Momin, a state legislator from Bhiwandi, is still optimistic.
"The government has already appointed a cabinet sub-committee to find a solution to the ongoing stalemate," he told AA.
"It is expected to file its report within a couple of days," he added.
"I am constantly in touch with chief minister’s office. I am getting a strong feeling that the chief minister will intervene in this matter soon and the outcome will be positive," said the lawmaker.
"With the kind of pressure and protest, I am hopeful of a positive outcome soon."
An official in Maharashtra chief minister’s office told AA that they are closely monitoring the situation in three textile towns.
When asked whether there will be any decision by the chief minister to resolve the shutdown crisis, he refused to divulge any detail.
"Everything is on the table. We are meeting various delegations and deliberating all the possibilities," said the official, declining to be named.
"The cabinet sub-committee will submit a report soon," he said.
Yusuf Ilyas of the All-Malegaon Powerloom Consumers Association expected the state's government to bend this time.
"Time and again, the government has played the role of hide and seek," he told AA.
"But this time, we will not relent to their persuasion. We will only back down when there is a decision to withdraw the hiked tariff."