AFTER all those rosy pre-poll promises, the first shock after the elections that the people of Punjab have got is a hike in electricity tariff. Though the raise is small — an average tariff hike of 2.14 per cent — the added burden on the consumer pinches more since Punjab’s domestic consumer is already paying the highest rate per unit in the entire northern region. He is having had to pay for the noxious inter-linked grid of Punjab's fiscal bankruptcy, Punjab State Power Corporation Limited’s revenue-expenditure gap and power subsidy doles for farmers. It is a vicious trap. A survey by the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) has found that over 80 per cent of free power goes to big farmers. The Punjab Cabinet noted that if one per cent farmers volunteer to give up 50 per cent subsidy, it would reduce the subsidy burden by Rs 35 crore per annum. But there is negligible response from rich farmers on this.
The present policies of the government and the PSPCL hold little hope for the income-expenditure chasms decreasing. Unlike other states which have acquired power plants from the private sector, after the closure of the outdated state-run thermal plants, Punjab has allowed the private players to build three supercritical thermal plants in the past few years. Now, the government passes on to the consumer the PSPCL’s bill of fixed charges paid to the private companies even for power that is not utilised. Experts say this burns a hole of around Rs 1,300 crore annually in the consumers’ pocket. So much for Punjab being a power-surplus state.
The hapless consumer is also made to pick the tab of the inefficiencies of the power distributor, with transmission and distribution losses in Punjab being 17 per cent. The 2017 Union Ministry of Power rating of all power distributors that took into account operational, financial, regulatory and reform parameters saw the PSPCL slip to the 13th position from the fifth rank. The power pricing policy is stacked against the consumer. Corrective steps need be taken to fulfil the poll promise of providing cheaper electricity.