EVERY summer half the day, the national capital of India reels under severe power cut. With power generation static for the last many years there is no end in sight for the citizens of Delhi from this trauma. No country can claim itself progressing well if its citizens are deprived of the bare essential utilities like water, electricity, transport, education facility, health care and other basic civic amenities. By this yardstick almost half the people of India still live denied of all of these. In the last few weeks this journal carried a series of articles on this subject. Two articles by Sanjay Kaul, an expert and a civil society activist, on Delhi’s preparation for the Commonwealth Games 2010 and Privatisation of Power distribution expose the sham the UPA has created in the name of Private-Public-Participation (PPP) agreements, which has now become synonymous with public loot.
For the last one month an unseemly tug of war is raging between the Congress-led Delhi government and the Power Regulator (DERC) on fixing the electricity tariff. The Regulator says that the private discoms, who distribute electricity in the capital have a surplus of Rs 4000 crore and that the power tariff can be reduced by at least 20 per cent. The power discoms refuse to comply saying that they are incurring losses. The Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit intervened on behalf of the private players saying that the people of Delhi are rich enough to pay higher tariff. Ever since the privatisation of distribution, eight years ago, the power tariff has become controversial with the government siding with the corporate cartel who make huge profit and the consumer feeling cheated by poor service and heavy billing.
Now both the DERC and the government are sticking to their guns. The BJP has accused the Chief Minister of siding with the discoms in matters regarding their demand for increasing power tariff. The DERC says that the government has no jurisdiction to advise it on the matter. In an embarrassment to the state government the Solicitor General of India Gopal Subramaniam has also held that the state has no mandate to restrict the DERC announcing the new tariff order.
The entire saga of power distribution privatisation in Delhi is a story of transition from a government monopoly to a private monopoly. The element of competition was missing with two corporate, Tatas and Reliance sharing the entire distribution between themselves and the government battling for the private companies. Excess billing, erratic supply, corruption and power theft have vitiated the scene as a result of this. The consumer who should have been the ultimate beneficiary of privatisation is the worst sufferer in the present scenario. The Delhi Vidyut Board was inefficient and corrupt, we have now a regime which is efficiently corrupt and criminally intimidating.
The repeated controversies surrounding power tariff, erratic distribution and consumer suffering are a classic example of the growing clout of corporate entities in governance. The Delhi government has overturned all norms of good governance by actively conspiring with the private power brokers against the interest of the people. It has exhibited mala fide intention in obstructing relief in tariff that was long overdue and was finally being offered by the DERC. It is yet another example of the state intervening against its own people in favour of private companies. What is more shocking is that these companies are not producing electricity-production is still with the state-they are only billing. The privatisation was, as our analyst wrote, in effect the hiving off of the least problematic part of the power sector. With most of the infrastructure for transmission and distribution already in place for the private parties who were brought in, the only work left was billing, replacing old mechanical meters with fast running sleek ones. Everyone was shocked when they installed new meters and their bills shot up.
The new controversy again illustrates how far removed we are from the idea of a welfare state and how strong is the grip of cartels on our political system.