The Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) late on Thursday issued guidelines to extend the benefit of monthly 200 free power units to Scheduled Castes (SC), non-SC, Backward Classes (BC) and below poverty line (BPL) families whose annual consumption exceeded 3,000 units.
According to a spokesperson of the Chief Minister’s Office, the decision will bring back into the scheme’s cover the over 1.17 lakh domestic consumers who had been taken out of its ambit with the introduction of the upper limit. The move will put an additional burden of Rs 163 crore on the state exchequer.
The move came hours after the Punjab Vidhan Sabha witnessed a debate and a walkout by the SAD-BJP members protesting against a January 31 decision wherein the state government had decided to remove the upper annual limit of 3,000 units for electricity consumption by SC/BC and BPL families. The opposition members, wearing black with electricity bills pinned on them, also accused the government of increasing the power tariff by as much as 30 per cent in the last two years.
SAD MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu raised the issue in the assembly but was not allowed to proceed further by the Speaker who said that the matter could be raised during the discussion on the budget. This led to the MLAs rushing into the well of the House and shouting slogans against the government and tearing up the power bills before conducting a walk out.
Addressing media later, former minister Bikram Singh Majithia said every section of society had been affected by repeated power tariff hikes, but the most affected were the poor including the SC and BC consumers. Majithia added that these consumers are also being presented inflated bills of as much as Rs 2 lakh.
Former finance minister Parminder Dhindsa said consumers were also being levied fixed charges whether they consumed power or not. “Power tariff has been increased as many as 11 times in the space of barely two years. This has resulted in Punjab power tariff being the costliest in the region”.
He said while power was available for Rs 3 per unit in Delhi, it was Rs 2 in Haryana and Rs 5.31 in Punjab. He said the domestic power slab went up to Rs 7.78 per unit. Dhindsa said even the industrial sector was not spared. “Though the Congress promised Industry power at the rate of Rs 5 per unit, the sector is getting power between Rs 7 to Rs 8 per unit”.
The SAD legislators also highlighted how people were being subjected to increased taxes even as the Congress government had made hollow promises of a tax free budget. They said state residents had already been subjected to taxes like infrastructure development tax, electricity duty tax and municipal tax. “More taxes are in the offing with the government set to issue ordinances to put them into effect from April next year,” he added.
Earlier, state power minister Gurpreet Singh Kangar informed the House that the government was set to review the “excess” electricity bills of the SC and BC families.
He was replying to the calling attention notice of AAP MLAs Harpal Singh Cheema, Kultar Singh Sandhwan and Gurmeet Singh Meet who sought to draw his attention towards “high cost of electricity” in the state.
Kangar blamed the previous SAD-BJP government for the pending power bills.
“They (SAD-BJP) promised gullible people during poll campaigning (in 2017) that power bills will be waived if they come to power for the third time. This is the main reason behind the pending and excess bills,” Kangar said.
Kangar alleged that the then CM had asked power employees not to look at ‘Kundi’ (illegal) power connections in the state.
Rubbishing the claims of AAP that power was costlier in Punjab than Delhi, state power minister said Punjab charges Rs 25 to Rs 70 kw per connection as against Rs 125 to Rs 250 KW in Delhi.