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Delhi: How relief on electricity bills is powering election campaigns

Subsidised power became available after AAP came to power in 2015, and since August 2019, the state government has fully freed consumption up to 200 units of electricity and partly subsidised utilisation of 201-400 units.

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Last Updated: Jan 20, 2020, 10.44 AM IST
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(This story originally appeared in on Jan 20, 2020)
NEW DELHI: Before the 2015 assembly polls, bijli half paani maaf was a catchy promise of the Aam Aadmi Party. Voters are circumspect about election-time assurances, but this is one commitment, most city dwellers feel, that has been met. Last month, over 38 lakh consumers got electricity bills amounting to nil despite the December cold, according to the power distribution companies.

Subsidised power became available after AAP came to power in 2015, and since August 2019, the state government has fully freed consumption up to 200 units of electricity and partly subsidised utilisation of 201-400 units. The government also offered a flat Rs 800 discount to those who consumed a maximum of 400 units of power. Right now, Delhi is the only state to have free electricity up to 200 units.


Power and water, which is also free if consumption is under 20,000 litres per month, has left Delhiites happy. In Bhumiheen Camp near Kalkaji, shopkeeper Pramod Mandal contentedly reveals that more than 90% of the JJ colony’s households now get zero power bills. This is enough to make life easier in the damp and cramped quarters. “Living conditions may not be good, but we’ve seen some progress. Savings of even Rs 1,000 a month is a lot for a family here,” Mandal noted.

For Bawana resident Rakesh Kumar too, there’s a little more money in the wallet at the end of the month. “Water is free. The power bill is minimal in summer and nil in winters. Medicines are free. Education of top quality is free,” the daily-wage earner said. “We just have to worry about food. What more can an aam aadmi struggling to eke out a living expect?”

According to Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited, 11.2 lakh users did not have to pay a paisa for energy in December 2019, while 9.1 lakh got the same benefit in November. After the August announcement of full subsidy, 4.9 lakh of Tata Power’s 17.2 lakh customers cashed in on the largesse in September 2019.

In the capital’s areas serviced by Reliance-owned discoms BSES Rajdhani Power Limited and BSES Yamuna Power Limited, more than 10 lakh consumers got full subsidy in September, while 12.5 lakh got rebates of up to Rs 800. In October, 15.8 lakh availed of free electricity, and 12.7 lakh paid half the cost of units up to 400 they had utilised. In November and December, the number of full beneficiaries were 24 lakh and 26.8 lakh, respectively, while 8.9 lakh and 6.9 lakh consumers got subsidies under the 201-400 units category.

More people benefit in the winter months. As a Tata Power official explained, “Consumers used ACs in September, but not in November and December. Using fewer units avails them the subsidy benefits. In summer, 27% of consumers limited use to 200 units, but this number is expected to have risen to around 65% in winter.”

The power companies gets the subsidy reimbursed by Delhi government, which needs, therefore, to spend Rs 1,800-2,000 crore on this annually, according to a power department official. Something that gladdens the hearts of voters will never be accepted without a political murmur, so alleging that the power department had issued order to provide free power only till March 31, Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari asserted, “It is just an election gimmick.”

According to Delhi government, however, official schemes are budgeted for every financial year. The free electricity scheme is a long-term one and its cost will be included in the new budget, it insisted.

Not everyone, of course, gets free power. “The upper middle class does not get much from the scheme,” said B S Vohra, president, Federation of East Delhi RWAs. “Instead of lowering the power tariff and asking for a CAG audit of the discoms, the government is offering subsidies to win over the masses. The money for the power scheme comes by avoiding other necessary work such as repairing roads and potholes and so on.”

But the popularity of AAP’s electricity subsidy scheme has prompted both Congress and BJP to promise similar — or even higher — relief if elected to power. While Congress has announced it will subsidise up to 600 units of electricity if its forms the government, BJP has assured “five times more benefits than what the Arvind Kejriwal government is promising”.

Are the voters swayed? Md Ashfaz, 53, said in Seelampur, “All parties are now making tall promises only to get elected. We know who made the promises and also kept them.”

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