Citing rich-poor ‘divide,’ AAP announces free power for half of Delhihttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/citing-rich-poor-divide-aap-announces-free-power-for-half-of-delhi-5870993/

Citing rich-poor ‘divide,’ AAP announces free power for half of Delhi

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s move comes just months before the Assembly polls are expected to be held in Delhi.

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Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at a press conference in New Delhi. (Express Photo)

In a move that will touch 26 lakh of Delhi’s 49 lakh households with an electricity connection, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced Thursday that free power will be extended to those who use less than 200 units per month.

Another 14 lakh, who use between 201 and 400 units per month, will benefit from a 50 per cent subsidy. In all, this means that around 40 lakh, or 81 per cent, of households with a power connection stand to benefit from the decision.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s move comes just months before the Assembly polls are expected to be held in Delhi.

The relief will be in place only for this financial year as the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC), the quasi-judicial body that fixes power tariffs in the city, releases a new rate each year. Officials said the subsidy for the next financial year will depend on the tariff that is fixed then. The announcement caps the July 31 reduction in tariffs across slabs by the DERC.

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According to Kejriwal, close to 17 lakh people (35 per cent of users) will not have to pay for electricity usage during the summer under the new tariff. In winter, the number of people falling under the 0-200 unit category goes up to 67 per cent, officials said.

Kejriwal described the 200-unit limit as a “basic lifeline commitment” and a move towards bridging the divide between the privileged and the masses. He said the move will cost the government between Rs 1,800 crore and Rs 2,000 crore.

“The government is giving a basic commitment of power through this, like we did in the case of water. Many people had argued that if we make water of up to 20,000 litres free monthly, there will be wastage. But we have seen that instead of waste, people have started saving more to avail the subsidy. Likewise, this step will encourage power savings. It will also act as a controlling factor in terms of arresting the growing power load,” Kejriwal said.

Crediting the decision to the work done in the power sector over the last four years, Kejriwal said: “The power infrastructure had collapsed due to lack of investments. There has been allround improvement in these areas… and discoms are financially healthy today. Their regulatory gaps are coming down substantially.”

Pointing out that power cuts have become a “thing of the past”, Kejriwal said: “We managed steady supply even when peak load was 7,400 MW. There has been a reduction of 85 per cent in terms of power cuts.”

Kejriwal said the subsidy was made possible because of an “honest government”. “If power infrastructure sees such development, if the financial health of discoms improve, if revenue sees an uptick, if people get 24-hour power supply — it is possible because people chose an honest government. If I am trying to extend facilities available to khaas aadmis to the aam aadmi, how am I wrong?” he said.

When contacted by The Indian Express, an official from one of the five discoms in Delhi said that within 200 units, a household can run “one TV, one refrigerator, one washing machine, three fans, five LED bulbs and one geyser (for an hour each day) for a reasonable amount of time over 30 days”.

The promise of free water and a 50 per cent rebate on power bills had handed the AAP a landslide victory in 2015, something the party hopes to replicate in the next polls, along with improvement in the education sector.

In less than a month after he first became the Chief Minister, Kejriwal announced that Delhi residents would get up to 20 kilolitres of free water each month. A day later, on December 31, 2013, he announced a 50 per cent power subsidy scheme.

While Kejriwal resigned within 49 days of forming the government the first time, its poll plank before it came back to power with an overwhelming majority remained the decisions taken earlier in the power and water sectors. After the AAP came into power in 2015, both decisions were implemented afresh.