Delhi government’s power subsidy divides the people into AAP sympathisers and others.
The Aam Aadmi Party government will now be subsidising those who break the law. That is the message sent out by the Delhi government’s decision to partially waive the pending power bills of those who had stopped payment in response to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s 2012-13 agitation against “inflated” bills.
The civil disobedience of a loyal few has been rewarded with a 50 per cent discount, and a full waiver of penalties by the AAP government. As for the aam aadmis who scrupulously paid their dues, and possibly struggled to meet high amounts? They have been left high and dry, effectively punished for complying with rules that a political party in campaign mode had declared unjust.
The AAP’s subsidy could also be read as a signal to the electorate that you are either with us, or against us. It goes against the grain of constitutionally mandated principles of equality that the government sanctions relief to its “supporters” alone. The Supreme Court has consistently maintained that there should be an “intelligible differentia” that justifies the state’s favourable treatment of one group over another. Allegiance to the ruling party’s agenda surely fails this test. What’s more, the SC had last year weighed in on the subject of election freebies, cautioning governments to assess the purpose of their sops, especially when they intolerably burdened the public exchequer.
Despite the “pro-poor” gloss that the AAP has sought to invest its decision with, the AAP’s subsidy, in effect, meets the electricity bills of a select few from the taxpayer’s money, without making any attempt to target the needy. For all its claims to expose the purportedly cosy relationship between industry and government, the Delhi government is doing exactly what it has accused others of: favouring its benefactors. What next? The government offering tax breaks only for those who financed its election campaign?
If electricity bills have indeed been inflated, as the AAP claims, it is imperative to correct this anomaly — across the board. The lieutenant governor has already initiated an audit of distribution companies by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Kejriwal and his government must, at the very least, wait till the CAG has submitted its findings before laying out sops for consumers — selectively, as in the present case, or for all — and penalties against errant discoms.