With power tariff cuts months before Delhi polls, Arvind Kejriwal seeks to shift focus to his welfare-driven policies

By reducing the power tariff substantially in Delhi just a few months before the Assembly elections, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has shown that he is not willing to lose his grip over the ‘Development and Welfare’ narrative but is determined to derive the maximum political mileage out of it.

Making the announcement of power tariff reduction for the residents of the national capital, Kejriwal, in a press conference on Thursday, said, “The Delhi government has decided to provide free electricity to domestic consumers using up to 200 units every month. Consumers using power between 201 to 400 units every month will be getting 50 percent subsidy on their electricity bills.”

The move, which is seen as Kejriwal’s attempt to return to his original brand of politics that propelled him to power in Delhi in the 2015 Assembly elections, comes a day after the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) announced a major slashing of fixed power tariffs.

 With power tariff cuts months before Delhi polls, Arvind Kejriwal seeks to shift focus to his welfare-driven policies

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced slashed power tariffs in a press conference on Thursday. PTI

The power regulating body had on Wednesday announced the new electricity tariff for 2019-20, in which fixed charges were significantly brought down while energy charges were raised. As per the new rates, the fixed charges up to 2 kilowatts (kw) have been reduced from Rs 125 to Rs 20, while the charges above 2 kw but less than 5 kw have been slashed from Rs 140 to Rs 50.

By slashing the fixed power tariffs, the DERC has certainly made it easier for the Delhi government to roll out cheaper electricity plans. Because of the tariff cuts, the government will be left with enough spare money to absorb the new scheme, with a cost overrun of merely an additional Rs 300 crore.

Till the end of financial year 2018-19, the Delhi government had spent Rs 1,700 crores on power subsidy to residents and the same is likely to increase up to Rs 2,000 crores after the Thursday announcement made by Kejriwal.

The new burden of Rs 300 crores is unlikely to be a heavy one for the Delhi government, which has been continuously submitting a surplus budget for a pretty long time now. In the last financial year, the Delhi government registered a budget surplus of over Rs 5,000 crores.

Till 31 July, 2019, residents had to pay Rs 477 for usage of up to 200 units (1 kw) of electricity and after the new announcement, it will now come down to zero. Over 26 lakh consumers using electricity up to 200 units will avail the benefit of free electricity.

On the other hand, 14 lakh people who consume more than 200 units but less than 400 units will avail electricity at half the price. The benefits of free and cheap electricity doled out to voters, few months before the election has predictably triggered a political debate, with the state unit of the BJP terming the move a “poll stunt”.

Delhi BJP leader Vijender Gupta said that the announcement is made in view of the upcoming Assembly polls. "They are a sinking ship and that is why they are announcing freebies like free metro rides for women and free electricity,” he said referring to the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government.

In reply to the BJP, AAP leader Atishi said that the electricity subsidy is nothing but the outcome of the Delhi voters’ decision to elect an honest government led by an educated chief minister.

“Delhi has an educated and honest chief minister who understands policies, unlike the BJP-ruled states, and that is why electricity could be heavily subsidised. BJP won’t be able to understand it because they are neither honest nor educated,” she said.

Irrespective of what the political mudslinging leads to, it is certain that the new announcement of decreased power tariffs in Delhi is likely to help Kejriwal bring the electorate’s focus back on the welfare-driven narrative that he has carefully crafted in the last five years.

Among other promises made in his 2015 Assembly poll campaign, Kejriwal’s trailblazing slogan was about halving the electricity tariff, and decreasing water tariffs to zero. The AAP, after forming the government in the national capital in 2015, has been making an effort to create an impression that it is tirelessly working to fulfil its electoral promises.

In a press statement released by the Delhi government in the month of June 2019, the party claimed that the power tariffs in Delhi had decreased substantially after the AAP took over the city from the Congress. As per the statement in June, per 50 units of electricity used to cost a resident Rs 153 in 2010 and Rs 264 in 2013, during the Congress’ regime.

The statement said that the cost had become Rs 128 in June 2019.

On the other hand, the cost of per 100 units of power, which was priced at Rs 485 in the year 2013, was priced at Rs 211 in June 2019. Soon after the AAP government was formed in Delhi, up to 400 units of power were provided at a discounted rate of 50 percent, while houses with water meters were allowed to use 20,000 litres of water for free.

The power tariffs charged by the Delhi government remain lower than the prevailing rates in Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh. Till May 2019, the BJP-ruled state charged Rs 310 for the first 50 units of power consumed, as opposed to the rate in Delhi.

But despite these welfare measures, the AAP faced a crushing defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, as national security emerged as the prime focus of the election, overriding all other issues in the din after the Balakot attack.

Kejriwal seeks to highlight the development-centric narrative again by doling out ‘freebies’, and to turn public attention towards the achievements of his government in providing a life of ease for Delhiites; thus hoping to derive maximum political mileage.

Updated Date: Aug 03, 2019 17:48:30 IST