Mahesh Kumar, a telecom employee, insists that his two sons sleep in the same room as him and his wife in summers. And this insistence is not borne out of filial affection but fiscal compulsion. “We are a family of four and yet the average electricity bill ranges between Rs.2,500-3,000 bi-monthly. By sleeping in the same room, we don't need to switch on two air-conditioners, which helps save both energy and money,” he says.

Comfort and privacy are compromised, but at the end of the month when the power company issues a bill, the “sacrifice” does not seem so bad.

With a new tariff order being implemented a week from now, the Kumar family is worried. “We now have to do more. The children will have to cut down on TV and computer time and we will find more ways to use less power so that we pay less. Of course, it will dent our already stretched household budget further,” said Mr. Kumar.

Tens of thousands of households in the city burdened by spiralling inflation are now gearing to shell out more. Resident welfare associations and non government organisations that represent the consumers have predictably protested and want a “roll back”. They are unanimous in not accepting that the power hike is “justified”.

“The whole tariff exercise is opaque and we have been complaining for ages now. There was a surplus of Rs.3577 crore last year, which has surprisingly turned into a deficit this year. And the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission's statement that the earlier surplus was erroneously arrived at is hard to swallow. How do they expect us to believe that they could not anticipate a delay in the commissioning of new power plants? Everyone in this country knows that government projects are never on time, so when the earlier team at DERC used the data supplied by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) to arrive at that surplus they should have considered that the plants may be delayed. Why penalise the consumer?” complained Anil Sood of NGO Chetana.

Rise in cost of goods

The rise in tariff will spell a double whammy for the domestic category consumer. Not only will they pay more for electricity, they will now have to brace for a rise in commodity prices as well. “The tariff hike will automatically lead to a hike in prices of commodities, since manufacturers will pass on the increase in their costs to buyers. Every little thing that is manufactured requires power and when the raw material costs more, the end product naturally costs more,” said Praveen Khandelwal, general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT).

From the small time shopkeepers to the fancy restaurants, the fear of administrative costs going up is palpable. “We need air-conditioners, ovens, refrigeration on at all times, and we cannot just switch off at will and say we are trying to save our costs. We don't know how far we will be able to absorb the costs, but eventually yes, this is another expense that gets passed through to the consumer,” said a manager at a popular eating joint in Khan Market.

The discoms' exhortation that their losses are mounting, the DERC's reasoning that the costs of power generation are higher, the government's explanation that the companies have to meet their expenses and pay off their dues mean little to the consumers who are struggling to keep pace with the mounting expenses.

“In the past two years, stretching the salary to last an entire month has been a fight that we barely win. The house rents have gone up, food prices are exorbitant, travelling by public transport is not cheap, and education and medical care are expensive,” said Raj Kumar, a driver with a private company, who earns around Rs.1.44 lakh per annum and has still “come to the conclusion that we earn far too little to keep up with this rising cost of living”.

Keywords: power tariff

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