Debating India

ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS

The power factor

Siddarth NARRAIN

Saturday 29 November 2003, by NARRAIN*Siddharth

Article paru dans Frontline, Volume 20 - Issue 24, November 22 - December 05, 2003.

ONE of the crucial issues in the coming elections in Madhya Pradesh is the power crisis faced by the State.

There are power cuts for up to five hours in urban areas and up to 15 hours in rural areas. Tariffs for farmers have increased by up to 600 per cent, and 50 per cent of all power connections for farmers have been discontinued. This has hurt middle-class and poor farmers. These measures are a part of a package that the Madhya Pradesh government has to implement in order to comply with a Rs.720-crore loan agreement executed with the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The government signed the agreement to meet a financial crisis in the power sector, which was a result of a combination of factors including free power supply to all farmers.

The proposal envisages a 300 to 600 per cent increase in the power tariffs for farmers, a 50 per cent increase in the rates for powerloom producers and an increase in tariffs for all classes of electricity consumers including those living below the poverty line. The increase will affect shopkeepers and other commercial users, small and medium industries, powerloom workers and domestic consumers. Chittaroopa Palit, an activist with the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), says: "If the Madhya Pradesh government had brought down its transmission and distribution of load, improved the efficiency of distribution, and collected its outstanding dues, it could have raised enough revenue to avoid these hikes."

Chief Minister Digvijay Singh announced in September that the electricity bills of farmers and the urban poor between 2001 and 2003 would be waived. The Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board (MPSEB) asked the State to issue "zero bills" to farmers and submit a payment plan on how it would be compensated. This move was challenged in a public interest petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court by a consumer rights group, the Nagarik Upbhakta Margdarshik Manch, contending that it was violative of the model code of conduct of the Election Commission (E.C.). The High Court held that the decision needed the clearance of the E.C. The E.C. held that the State government’s decision was a violation of the model code of conduct. Asks Palit: "Even if the government had managed to get the bills waived until December, how would they pay after that? The tariffs are too high for them to pay."

The condition of the roads in Madhya Pradesh has also been a major electoral issue. The Madhya Pradesh government is getting a Rs.135-crore programme loan and a Rs.675-crore project loan from the ADB to finance partially the Madhya Pradesh State Road Sector Development Programme project involving the construction of 1,750 km of State highways and main district roads. The ADB will also provide financial assistance to help construct roads in rural areas. The million-dollar question is, as far as the results of the elections are concerned, have these measures come too late in the day?

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