NEW DELHI :
Inspired by the Aam Aadmi Party’ (AAP) gambit of providing free power up to 200 units every month for consumers, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) ruled West Bengal state government has taken a leaf out of the incumbent party’ playbook in joining the competitive populism bandwagon.
The bet paid handsome dividends for AAP in Delhi elections, with it leading on 63 seats in the 70 member Delhi legislative assembly. Interestingly, both these parties have political strategist Prashant Kishor rewriting their rules of engagement. West Bengal’s finance minister Amit Mitra on Monday announced free electricity to consumers with a three monthly consumption of upto 75 units in the 2020-21 state budget.
West Bengal’ average aggregate technical and commercial losses are at 26.74%. Interestingly, Delhi, where electricity discoms were privatized in July 2002, registered the lowest loss of 9.7% in the country.
AAP focused on the work done by the state government over the past five years, especially in areas such as education, health, water and electricity in its election campaign. Its 28-point election manifesto has promised doorstep delivery of ration, 24-hour shopping areas in the national capital, and ₹1 crore compensation for the kin of sanitation workers who die while on duty.
AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal has also released a 10-point guarantee card, which includes reducing pollution by a third, ensuring continuous piped drinking water supply and building houses for slum dwellers.
Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) that ran the 2020 campaign for AAP, is now assisting DMK’ for Tamil Nadu’ assembly polls. I-PAC’s report card includes the successful election campaigns of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, Nitish Kumar in 2015, Amarinder Singh in 2017 and Jagan Mohan Reddy in 2019.
The free power promise comes in the backdrop of the Centre coming across instances of states failing to pay struggling distribution utilities for free power supplied to farms and unmetered consumers, though states claimed to have made substantive payments, Mint reported on Monday. At least 10 states are losing about a third of the power supplied to their consumers in distribution losses.
Free electricity to farmers and other such subsidies have burdened power distribution companies (discoms) and generators in India, where average aggregate technical and commercial losses are at 21.4%, among the highest in the world. Even as soaring subsidy costs have left state governments with little money to spend on welfare programmes, they are reluctant to end free power supply, fearing a political backlash.
In the 2015 elections, AAP had swept the state, winning 67 of the 70 assembly seats. The free power decision of last year has benefited about 3.2 million residents in the national capital and is expected to cost Rs1,800-2,000 crore annually According to Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal; 200 units of electricity cost Rs1,400 in Mumbai, Rs910 in Gurugram and Rs1,310 in Noida.
Soon after coming to power in 2015, the AAP government had announced a 50% subsidy on monthly power consumption of up to 400 units and 20,000 litres of free water per month to all households. This free power decision was in addition to the existing 50% subsidy for electricity usage. There has also been no hike in electricity tariff for the fifth consecutive year in Delhi.