More energy riots - electrickery in Bangladesh

Bangladesh riots 27.09.06
Bangladesh riots 27.09.06

Two hundred people, including police, were injured in Bangladesh as more riots and demonstrations have erupted in protest against regular interruptions to electricity supplies.

Submitted by Red Marriott on September 28, 2006

The nineteen hours of violent clashes began yesterday evening (Wednesday 27th).

"...We had been experiencing an unusual on-again, off-again electricity supply that we had not seen ever before, causing immense sufferings ... throughout the night in abnormally hot and humid weather. We had been constantly sweating inside our houses amid sweltering heat," said a resident of Senpara area in Mirpur.

Some Dhaka residents are presently only receiving 2 hours supply per day.

The rioting broke out in Dhaka's northern Mirpur district, where nearly 1,000 stone-throwing demonstrators took to the streets, and it soon spread to other parts of the city including the Shanir Akhra and Keraniganj areas. A main road through Mirpur was barricaded for several hours and at least two buses were torched. Government offices were attacked and power plants damaged.

The violent protests began after the breaking of the Ramadan fast on Wednesday evening. It was reported that the observance of evening prayers had apparently been hampered during Ramadan by a lack of electrical light in mosques. After this break-fast hundreds of youths poured into the streets from their houses in Senpara and adjoining areas and attacked local power offices, barricaded roads, and damaged or set afire scores of motor vehicles, including police and RAB (Rapid Action Batallion - paramilitary police) vans during the protests. In the Keraniganj area about 20,000 people came out into the dark to protest power cuts and set fire to police vehicles, throwing some proletarian light on the situation.

But religious concerns were not the real issue; the present events are a continuation of a long-running struggle in the country over unreliable energy supplies. Power cuts affect daily life in various important ways. Life in city slums becomes even more unbearable when denied basic air conditioning of domestic fans during sweltering, humid weather. Workers lose earnings when production stops in the factories. Domestic water supplies are affected as the reservoirs and distribution system are dependent on electricity. Consumers are charged a regular meter rental fee whether or not supply is maintained. (In effect, you pay for the mere possibility of receiving electricity.)

"Farmers report not receiving electricity for days, and then when they do get a supply it is only for a maximum of four to five hours. Farmers are demanding that electricity supplies be continuous, and that they should pay only for the electricity that they actually receive."

Farmers' crop irrigation systems are also usually dependent on electrical pumps to draw the water from deep wells and bore holes. The effect of water shortages on rice crops have lead to fears of food shortages later in the year. Farmers fear economic ruin if the crops are lost.

On 4th January 2006 up to 12,000 people, many farmers, took to the streets under the banner of the Palli Biddut Shangram Parishad (Rural Electricity Movement Association) in the northern town of Kansat to protest against failures in power supply. Police fired live ammunition with AK47s, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd, who responded with sticks and machetes. Local news reported around 300 people were injured, including nearly 20 cops. At least 2 men were killed and 50 suffered bullet wounds. The repression did not stop the protests; on 23rd January at least 7 more were killed with over 100 injured by cops. A young boy later died from his injuries. (Later estimates put the number dead from these 2 protests as at least 18.) On 5th April 2006 at least four people were killed when local members of the ruling Bangladeshi Nationalist Party mounted bomb attacks on another farmers' rally.

The government claims that increased industrial demand is to blame for the power cuts and, as a token gesture, has announced its intention to turn off illuminated billboards and to restrict supplies to shopping malls. The national electricity system is suffering multiple breakdowns and maintenance problems and is working at less than two thirds capacity at present - it is inadequate for modern growing demands and is in a poor state of disrepair. It is not expected to return to its normal (inadequate, unreliable) capacity for several weeks.

Further unrest is also expected next month in the Bangladeshi garment industry now that talks between employers, government and workers representatives have failed to reach any agreement about setting a minimum wage or implementing other concessions promised after the major workers revolt in the industry in May-June.

All of the above shows the diversity and depth of struggles the working class continues to fight and the crisis the ruling class faces in Bangladesh.
(See also our earlier report; here)