20 Jun 2024  |   03:27am IST

Government should ease the burden on Goans

The government has given Goans its first shock after the general elections by hiking the power tariff. The Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission (JERC) approved an average tariff hike of 3.5 per cent “to further reduce the reliance of the Electricity Department on budgetary support from the government”. The JERC order has come into force from June 16. Even the JERC has acknowledged that the new tariff was held back due to the implementation of the model code of conduct. 

As per the revised tariff, the energy charges for domestic and non-commercial consumers consuming 0 to100 units has been increased from Rs 1.75 to Rs 1.90 and for 101 to 200 units, it is hiked from Rs 2.60 to Rs 2.80. For 201 to 200 units, the tariff is revised from Rs 3.30 to Rs 3.70; 301 to 400 units from Rs 4.40 to Rs 4.90; and above 400 units it is increased from Rs 5.10 to Rs 5.80. According to the Electricity Department, the maximum number, that is around four lakh, consumers in the State fall within the bracket of 0 to 200 units. Hence on an average, consumers in the 0-200 unit section will have to shell out an additional minimum of Rs 35, excluding the duties and charges applicable to every consumer. And those who consume 400 and above units of power, will have to now pay an additional Rs 125 only as energy charges, excluding duties and other charges.

During the last monsoon session of the Assembly, when the power tariff hike issue was raised by the Opposition, MLAs from the ruling dispensation had opposed any burden on the consumers. One of the MLAs, who is now a minister, while discussing the issue had said, “I fail to understand what is the wisdom in wanting to charge the common man. We read in the newspapers that JERC has directed a hike in the tariff rates. I was the power minister and so was Digambar Kamat, but I categorically state in this House that we never succumbed to the dictates of the JERC. To us, the JERC had the right to recommend but their recommendations were not binding on the State.”

During the same session, the Assembly witnessed an uproar over outstanding dues to be recovered by the Electricity Department, which then totalled up to more than Rs 400 crore. That is more than the budgetary support the government extends to the department. Once again this issue will witness a heated debate in the House and even the ruling MLAs will be forced to speak on behalf of the consumers.

The issues plaguing the Electricity Department have now turned perennial, specifically the outstanding dues of more than Rs 400 crore, for which the government introduced the one-time settlement scheme (OTSS) twice. However, those who have been defaulting in payments continue to enjoy the power consumption. The defaulters include government departments, agencies, autonomous bodies and industrial sectors. The outstanding amount from domestic consumer does not account to even five per cent of the total outstanding areas.

On the other hand, the Electricity Department is unable to put an end to leakages and illegalities in the supply chain. The Chief Minister has claimed that the State is undertaking projects worth more than Rs 3,000 crore and hence Centre’s assistance is necessary. He said that if the tariff is not hiked then the central assistance will not be received.

The industry body, the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) has expressed serious concerns regarding the hike in power tariffs across all sectors, stating that it is set to significantly impact various industries, including industrial, hospitality, agriculture, and allied activities. The GCCI has said the increased electricity tariffs for industries in Goa make it challenging for local industries to compete with those in other States, where industrial tariffs are lower. 

One of the concerns of the consumers has been the Transmission and Distribution (T&D) losses, to which the department takes pride in asserting that the losses are around 7.5 per cent, which is below the approved 10 per cent by the JERC. However, for a small State like Goa, a 10 per cent cap is too huge and the department ought to ensure that these leakages are addressed. 

However, the biggest concern has been the lack of accountability of the Electricity Department. Time and again new schemes are launched including the distribution of LED fixtures, OTSS, bunch cabling, etc. An audit of these schemes and their benefits to the consumers and the State ought to be studied. Just like the failure of bunch cabling and subsequent mum silence on accountability, the government has not found it fit to order an audit of the various schemes implemented in ‘public welfare’.

The downside of the power tariff hike is that the general public, especially the middle strata of society which is the largest consumer, faces a double whammy - one through a direct tariff hike and then subsequently due to inflation, they get taxed further. In the absence of any industrial economic growth, accompanied with the high rate of unemployment in the State and the trend of contract employment, household economics is already under acute pressure. Hence, the government should ease the burden and not further the problems of Goans. 


IDhar UDHAR

Idhar Udhar