The Delhi Electricity regulatory Commission held a public hearing with the stated aim of rationalising the tariff structure at their Malaviya Nagar office on 8th October 2012 under the chairmanship of Commissioner Shri P D Sudhakar and co-presided over by Commissioners Shri S Wadhera and Shri J P Singh. Many representatives of RWAs and other organisations and individuals were present and many could not get into the hall as it was overfull. It may be recalled that in June this year the commission had announced a massive tariff hike alongside a change in the slab system, which has been questioned and opposed by consumers and many organisations.
Making his submission to the Commission, Prof Bharat Seth, member of the Delhi Regional Council of Lok Raj Sangathan said that in this day and age, affordable access to electricity is a basic human need, especially for a country that wants to be counted amongst the developed countries of the world. Therefore, the slab system should be retained and strengthened in favour of low to moderate consumers of electricity. Given the low income levels of a large number of families, the Commission must ensure that these consumers are subsidized or at most charged at cost. Since bulk of purchase of electricity by the Discoms is at less than 2 Rupees a unit, this is the rate that should be used for lowest slab.
With regard to the continuing unscheduled power outages, Prof Seth said it was the business of distribution companies to properly plan and control the purchase of electricity so that their power purchase costs don’t go up. If they were unable to do so, then they should not be in this business. He said that if the demand exceeded the supply for any reason then distribution companies should find ways of limiting the supply to the energy guzzler consumers and ensure that the smaller consumers were not affected.
Prof Seth recalled the arguments that were used to justify privatisation of electricity. It was said at that time that privatisation of electricity distribution will drastically reduce the transmission and distribution losses and will benefit the consumers. It was also said that there will be multiple distribution companies and the consumer will have a choice. None of these have come true. The T&D losses have come down significantly but the tariff has not come down, and in fact, has shot up steeply in the last one year.
Distribution in any area of Delhi remains a monopoly. Therefore, the Regulator has to play a crucial role to ensure that interests of the consumers are protected. However, the experience of the Delhi residents has been just the opposite. The DERC as well as the Delhi Government appear to be working to maximize the super-profits of the distribution companies. It has been reported that the distribution companies are behind organising lavish trips, in which the officials are wined and dined, so that the officials are more inclined to tow their line. An earlier commissioner had actually suggested in 2010 that the tariff should be lowered by more than 20% as the distribution companies were making large profits. However, the Delhi government promptly stalled the order. These incidents do not give much confidence to the people of Delhi that authorities are looking after their interest.
Prof Seth concluded that actions of the Regulatory authority should be demonstratively pro-consumer. The electricity tariff hikes in the last one year should be withdrawn and future revision of tariff be done with the approval of the consumers through a strictly transparent audit whose results must be openly available.
Over a dozen representatives of RWAs and other organisations spoke against the tariff hike. There was a general agreement that the proposed slab system was unfair. One speaker pointed out that as per the new tariff order, consumption of 200 units and 201 units in one month will attract electricity charges of Rs. 740 and Rs. 960, respectively. This means that just one additional unit from 200 units will cost the consumer Rs. 220! In many interventions, it was pointed out that the distribution companies were fudging their account books to hide their profits so as to justify tariff hikes.
Speakers also complained that their submissions were simply being ignored by the DERC and that the whole process of public hearings was a farce. The consumers felt so marginalised that they shouted slogans against the DERC and the Delhi government and the public hearing could not proceed any further. Just as the consumers had feared, the DERC promptly issued a notice to raise the tariff of the 201-400 units per month slab, over 50% more than the tariff of previous slab. Needless to say, this was not recommended in any of the interventions during the public hearing!
Lok Raj Sangathan denounces the Delhi government and the Electricity regulator for making a mockery of the public hearing and for acting against the interest of the majority of the people and society.