In what officials said was a complete violation of the Electricity Act, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday announced exemption for people who had defaulted on electricity bills and withdrawal of cases against those booked for power theft since March 23 last year when he launched the AAP campaign against power discoms in the city.
No action would be taken against the defaulters and pilferers since they were “part of the andolan” and the amount due from them would be paid by the Delhi government, Kejriwal said. The regulator reacted cautiously, saying information from the office of the chief minister was still to reach them. “I will not comment on the legal aspect,” DERC chairperson P Sudhakar said. But Shakti Sinha, who was Delhi secretary for power and finance until August 2013, said Kejriwal’s announcement was “illegal as per the 2003 Electricity Act”.
“It has to be understood that power tariff can be brought down by the regulator after following a due process. There is the DERC for redressal of complaints. And then there are courts to settle disputes,” Sinha said. All electricity bills make it clear: “The connection shall be liable for disconnection on non-payment of all dues, including arrears of due dates, after notice as per Section 56-1 of the Electricity Act 2003.”
Officials said that of the nearly 45 lakh connections in the city under three power distribution companies, an estimated 10,000-12,000 consumers have been defaulting on electricity dues “continuously” since March last year. Connections of those in the lowest consumption slab of 0-200 units have not been severed.
BJP leader Harsh Vardhan said Kejriwal’s announcement was “a sign of very bad governance… a sign of anarchist rule”.
“If today, when the BJP is not in governance, we tell people that if they stop paying bills under AAP rule, we will bring down bills by 50 per cent when we come to power, how will they feel… There is a difference between shouting on the streets and ruling,” Harsh Vardhan said.
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Earlier, explaining why he had a cut-off date for defaulters, Kejriwal said he had begun his “civil disobedience movement” against “inflated” power bills by going on a fast from March 23, 2013. “We had asked people to stop paying electricity bills if the bills did not come down, and re-connect if power connections were cut by the then government. We had assured them that all such cases would be exempted if we formed the government,” he said.
“All who stopped paying power bills during this period will be forgiven, and electricity theft cases against them will also be exempted because we assume they were part of our movement. People who have been habitually not paying power bills for years will not be included in this category. We will announce the final details of this project soon,” he said.
Asked if he was burdening the Delhi government to fulfil his electoral ambitions, Kejriwal said: “You can interpret it as you wish… but a burden on who? Who is the government? Woh janata ka andolan tha, aur yeh janata ki sarkar hai (it was a people’s movement and this is a government of the people). If people of Delhi were unhappy with an issue and we fought the election promising to resolve it, then it is the duty of the new government to resolve this grievance of the people,” he said.
To a query on why taxpayers should be paying for those who had defaulted on electricity bills, Kejriwal said: “If I order a Rs 450-crore helicopter for myself after becoming chief minister and the taxpayers have to pay for it, then that will be a burden. I am not asking for any perks for myself. Whatever exemption I am giving is for the people… as it is, there are only 1.5 crore taxpayers in this country who pay for governance of the whole country.”
He announced a slew of measures, including a new number 09223166166 where people can SMS details of power outages in their area, with the initial key of DL_Power followed by details of their area and time of outage. “This well help the government get some data on power outages in the city. We are also trying to get data from discoms on power outages from January 1this year and last year, so we can compare outages during our government and the Congress government,” Kejriwal said, adding that discoms had been asked to put up details of scheduled power outages on the website http://www.delhisldc.org.