Column: AAP's power shock

Dec 11 2013, 10:30 IST
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SummaryForget a 50% reduction, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has to be ready for a near doubling of tariffs over a few years.

It is impossible to know which that precise moment was when the aam aadmi in Delhi decided to plump for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was it when Sheila Dikshit condescendingly said she hadn’t eaten onions for a week or was it when a series of CAG reports came out on various Congress scams? Was the Jan Lokpal Bill supposed to stop 2G-type scams or was it to prevent the aam aadmi from getting rooked every day? It was obviously a combination of many things, but the most evocative photo image of just what the AAP would do for suffering Delhiites was its chief Arvind Kejriwal donning his Gandhi topi and, with a pair of sturdy pliers, simply disconnecting electricity meters to ensure harassed citizens got the free power he felt they deserved. And, such was the moral authority of Kejriwal, the narrative must have been, the government never even dared to arrest him. The plank was so strong, even the BJP’s chief ministerial candidates were forced to say they too would reduce power costs in the capital—and since the BJP was playing catch-up, the 30% cut it promised was lower than the AAP’s 50%. Why vote for an imitator when you can vote for the original?

Over a period of time, as realisation grew that the AAP could well be in power—to be fair, no one gave the AAP a chance, and how wrong everyone was—so it decided it would play the middle ground. No more mass bypassing of electricity meters, an audit has been promised of all distribution companies (discoms), electricity meters will be checked by independent agencies and any discom not accepting the audit would find its licence revoked. And, in a measure that probably makes more sense, competition would be introduced in the sector. To put this in perspective, and there is little doubt the Congress is to blame for not pushing this, ‘open access’—to use electricity jargon—was something that was mandated in the Electricity Act of 2003 and had to be implemented within 5 years. We’re nearly in 2014 and there is no sign of ‘open access’.

This cosy monopoly probably ensured discoms didn’t spend as much time and effort to become more competitive—just see how competition in the telecom sector has lowered prices. So, for instance, power sector losses are still 17-20% in some Delhi discoms—if this was brought down to 10% levels seen in

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