Despite being a power surplus state, Punjab has seen spiraling a electricity tariff over the past few years irrespective of which party is in power. In the first two years of the Congress government, the trend has continued and despite being one of the more professionally-run branches of the government with improved functioning, the power sector has continued to face flak over tariff structure, closure of thermal plants and failure to re-negotiate financially crippling power purchase agreements.
High power tariff
The government has come under consistent fire for high power tariffs in the state and the repeated hikes imposed after Congress came to power.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) launched a ‘bijli andolan’ (power agitation) in villages in protest against the high power bills allegedly being received by villagers who use a handful of bulbs and a fan in their houses. State AAP president and MP from Sangrur, Bhagwant Mann, who led the agitation, said people having only two bulbs and two fans in their homes had received power bills of Rs 20,000 – Rs 25,000. Under the campaign, Mann and other AAP leaders said they had also re-connected power connections disconnected by the electricity department in various villages.
Former Finance Minister and SAD MLA Parminder Dhindsa has claimed that power consumers were being levied fixed charges whether they consumed power or not. SAD has alleged that power tariff has been increased 11 times in the past two years, making electricity costliest in Punjab as compared to other states.
Dhindsa has gone on record saying power was available for Rs 3 per unit in Delhi, Rs 2 in Haryana and Rs 5.31 in Punjab. He added that the domestic power slab went up to Rs 7.78 per unit. SAD has also attacked the government for claiming that industry was being supplied power at the rate of Rs 5 per unit, while the actual falls between Rs 7 to Rs 8 per unit.
Power subsidy to SC/BC issue
The state government was caught on the backfoot after it came under opposition fire for removing the upper annual limit of 3,000 units for electricity consumption by SC/BC and BPL families. Immediately after the issue was raised by SAD-BJP and AAP in the budget session, the government reversed its power subsidy order for SC/BC and BPL families. Within hours of the issue being raised, the state government issued orders to extend the benefit of monthly 200 free power units to SC/non-SC/BC and BPL families whose annual consumption exceeded 3,000 units.
The move came hours after the Punjab Vidhan Sabha witnessed a debate and a walkout by the members protesting against the January 31 decision. The government was also accused of increasing the power tariff by as much as 30 per cent in the last two years.
Lopsided power purchase agreements
The failure of the government to review the lopsided Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) which had been signed by the previous SAD-BJP government has also led to widespread criticism. Leader of Opposition Harpal Cheema said that the government should cancel all PPAs with private companies.
AAP MLA Aman Arora questioned why CM Capt Amarinder Singh could not terminate the PPAs as he had terminated the unfair water sharing agremenets during his previous tenure as CM in 2004. Arora said AAP has been providing electricity at Rs 1 per unit in Delhi. “In Punjab, even if thermal plants do not produce a single unit, the govt has to pay a huge amount to them,” he said.
When Congressmen sought probes against own govt
Interestingly, former power minister and a Congress MLA Rana Gurjit Singht too sought a probe into these agreements in the recent Assembly session. “When I was power minister, I calculated that the state would bear a burden of Rs 62,500 crore in the next 25 years on account of power purchase agreements to these companies,” he had said.
Ironically, PPCC President Sunil Jakhar had been the most vociferous critic of PPAs when Congress was in opposition. He had specifically raised the issue of PPAs entered with the company Sterlite for a 1980 MW thermal plant at Talwandi Sabo, Larsen and Toubro for 14 a MW thermal plant at Rajpura and GVK for 500 MW Goindwal Sahib thermal plant by paying high fixed charges as compared to other states.
Opposition to tubewell meters
Farm bodies have opposed the move even as the government has called it a pilot project and necessary under Punjab State Energy Regulatory Commission (PSERC) guidelines. Farmers apprehend that fixing of meters would eventually mean levying of electricity bill on tubewells.
The Bharatiya Kisan Union faction headed by Balbir Singh Rajewal has rejected the move saying that if the government desires to know power consumption of tubewells, it can fix meters on the feeders which supply power to them.
Allegation of biased recruitment in PSPCL
Causing much embarrassment to the government, its own MLAs raised the issue of a bias in recruitment carried out by the PSPCL for line men and other categories of jobs in the state and that Doaba was being left out. Rana Gurjit Singh, a former power minister himself, raised the issue of discrimination and said most jobs had gone to Malwa region. He demanded an inquiry into the recruitment process and also demanded that examination sheets and marks obtained by those recruited should be closely examined.
Recruitment process of 3,683 employees for the posts of JE, SSA, LDC, ALM etc. have been completed. Around 3,124 candidates have already been given appointment letters. PSPCL has successfully supplied eight hours of uninterrupted daily power supply to the agriculture sector this paddy season as per its commitment.