In a bid to blunt BJP’s attack over high electricity bills received by residents during the lockdown, the Uddhav Thackeray government on Friday launched a probe into Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited’s (MSEDCL) soaring bill arrears and rising debt.
“Till March 2014, MSEDCL had arrears totalling Rs 14154.5 crore. By the end of October, 2020, it has soared to Rs 59149.8 crore,” Energy Minister Dr Nitin Raut told mediaperspons while announcing the probe. While recounting that the BJP was in power and had held the energy portfolio from October 2014 to October 2019, Raut said the arrears had risen to Rs 51,145 crore by March this year itself.
“The issue of electricity arrears was discussed during Thursday’s Cabinet meeting and the chief minister has ordered a probe into it,” he added.
As per the minister’s own admission, the MSEDCL has faced a cash shortfall of Rs 15,065 crore so far in 2020-21 and now has committed liabilities totalling Rs 77,180 crore, with borrowings alone amounting to Rs 45,885 crore.
Earlier in the day, the BJP held a demonstration outside MSEDCL’s office in Mumbai, with party MLA Atul Bhatkalkar threatening to hold protests inside the Mantralaya if concessions in power bills were not extended to consumers for the months of April, May and June in the next three days. Raut has been at the centre of BJP’s attack.
In August, following complaints of high power bills by residents, Raut had announced a plan to absorb a portion of the payables of residential consumers for the April to June period. The Congress minister’s department had even submitted a proposal in this regard for Cabinet’s approval.
But amid queries raised by the NCP-led finance department, it could not go ahead. With his proposal stonewalled, Raut, on November 17, cited MSEDCL’s mounting arrears to rule out any relaxation for the consumers for the time being.
Sensing friction between the ruling allies, the BJP has launched an offensive against the government, with Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis even accusing it of betraying the masses.
Countering the offensive, Raut blamed the BJP rule for the current state of affairs. “The profits of the (power companies) gradually decreased under its watch,” he said.
Asked about BJP’s protests, Raut said that he will be happy if the protesters also led demonstrations against the Centre, which has been sitting on the state government’s request for a Rs 10,000 crore loan subsidy to tide over the crisis and is also yet to pay Rs 28,000 crore in GST dues.
Raut further said that the protesting BJP leaders were free to visit his office and he will get the bills they submit checked. “But they should promise to pay the bill amount if these were not found to be inflated,” he said, adding that “politicising the issue” was wrong.
Raut, meanwhile, reiterated his previous commitment of providing free electricity to residential users whose monthly consumption was up to 100 units after tiding over the pandemic and improvement in the financial condition of the power discom.
Meanwhile, the minister said that one of the technical committees appointed to probe the October 12 blackout in Mumbai and neighbouring satellite towns had submitted its report. Sources said the committee, headed by an IIT professor, has cited technical deficiencies leading to the incident.
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