In October 2012, the family of Kailash Chandra in Najafgarh on the outskirts of the city had an unusual but not unfamiliar visitor. Crusader against corruption Arvind Kejriwal landed at the house and with a simple pair of pliers reconnected their electricity supply that had been disconnected by the power distribution company and asked people to follow his example.
Kailash Chandra it was reported had died of a heart attack caused allegedly by the disconnection of his power supply.
The episode that was quickly dubbed by the government as one that would lead to “anarchy” was Mr. Kejriwal’s “civil disobedience movement” and a clarion call announcing his foray into electoral politics.
Power became a poll plank for Mr. Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party and was quickly adopted by the Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
And since then both the parties have been wooing voters-consumers with the promise of slashed electricity prices and accountability from the private companies.
And now with just over a month to go before the city goes to poll, power cuts and prices are an indispensible part of all election speeches and manifestos. The Congress government’s claims about reforms in the power sector and the prices being lower than most other metros are barely audible over the AAP and the BJP’s promises of slashing the bills by 50 and 30 per cent respectively.
The AAP has even accused the Delhi Government and the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, which fixes power tariffs, of “colluding” with the private companies and allowing them to hike prices year after year.
“In 2010, the then DERC chairperson Berjinder Singh had been approached by the discoms, saying that they have suffered losses of Rs.630 crore. They wanted tariff in Delhi to be increased. The DERC examined their accounts and conclude that they had actually made profit of Rs.3,577 crore. The DERC drafted an order saying that the tariff should be decreased by 23 per cent. This order was supposed to be announced on May 5, 2010, but on May 4, the Delhi Government wrote to the DERC to stop the order. Why did the government do that, what was the provocation? This means, the government had been approached,” Mr. Kejriwal told The Hindu during an interview recently.
He minces no words when it comes to attacking the DERC, a quasi-judicial body, and accuses it of being “soft” on the discoms.
“In that order [in 2010] there is a paragraph that says the DERC is decreasing the tariff only for this year [2010-11], however, the future estimations show that these companies are likely to make much more profits in the coming years and the power tariffs in Delhi will come down further. In 2011, Mr. Singh retired and as soon as P.D. Sudhakar came, he concluded the companies were making huge losses and tariffs were increased.”
The AAP’s claims the discoms fudge their accounts, finds an echo within the BJP. The Opposition’s senior leader Vijay Goel was seen protesting outside the DERC and organising “Paani-Bijli Adalat’ till recently when he was not raising a demand for a CAG audit of the discoms.
The BJP dismisses the DERC’s assertions that the price of power is controlled by the prices of gas and coal and that the Commission cannot and does not allow the pass through of any costs that are inflated and cannot be proved by the discoms.
“Almost 85 per cent of the tariff in the city goes into paying the charges of power produced by the government-owned generation companies like NTPC and Damodar Valley Corporation.The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission maintains a vigil on the prices, the DERC carries out stringent prudence checks on all claims made by the discoms before allowing their expenses, all this talk of collusion between the discoms and the Commission is just statements made in a politically charged atmosphere. Consumers are being misinformed by the political parties,” said a senior functionary of the DERC.
But the BJP is not ready to believe this, which is why the party says it will make power purchase agreements more transparent and review all existing ones.
“The discoms currently buy electricity more than the requirement of Delhi and eventually consumers bear the cost of this extra electricity. All consumers are paying and will continue to pay Rs.2 per unit more for this extra electricity bought by discoms. We will reduce this unnecessary purchase of power which will reduce the extra burden on consumers. After adding the carrying cost the effective increase per unit would be Rs.3.50….” the party promises.
While electricity is the mainstay of the AAP and the BJP’s election campaign, the BSP for instance does not share their view.
“Water and electricity are issues for them [AAP and BJP], they are not concerned by the issues that affect the lives of the poor. The Dalits and the marginalised whose interests the BSP seeks to protect are not bothered by issues of high power tariffs, because they are paid so little that they can barely sustain,” says Delhi in-charge M.L. Tomar.
Incidentally, the AAP’s own survey carried out recently across the city shows only 5 per cent of the people expressed power cuts as a popular election issue.