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Delhi Regulator feels the heat over power tariff hike

According to reports, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission’s prologue to the public hearing exercise that began on Monday was that it is an ally of the consumers. But the Commission’s assertion that it sees consumers as amicus curiae and not an “adversary” failed to cut ice with the consumers, who made their disappointment with the regulator, and its “failure to check power tariff hikes”, the mainstay of their arguments.

What was stated by the consumers was reiterated and embellished by political parties, the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party, both of which have made paani-bijli the bedrock of their political battle against the Congress-led State Government.

“Price rise in the power sector has made it difficult for people to make their ends meet. There isn’t one person in this public hearing who has not been critical of DERC,” said Arvind Kejriwal of the AAP. He went on to demand answers for questions about the veracity of the balance sheets submitted by discoms, the details of their financial deals, power purchase and sale agreements and whether DERC is competent to scrutinise the claims made by the companies.

“The DERC filed an affidavit that they recommend an audit of the discoms by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Where is the hold-up? And if DERC is committed to seeking an audit, why doesn’t it announce that there won’t be any tariff revisions till a CAG report is out,” he went on to ask.

Delhi BJP president Vijay Goel was more assertive. He demanded answers on how the Commission had recognised regulatory assets amounting to several thousand crores, when there was nothing to buttress the claims made by the discoms. “The companies claim that the regulatory assets are Rs.20,000 crore, you have recognised Rs.6,990 crore, which means they furnished fabricated data, why is DERC not penalising them?” he asked.

Raising questions about the “credibility” of DERC and the “lack of public trust in the institution”, Mr. Goel said: “You [DERC] have no right to provisionally raise power tariffs unless you have gone through the whole financial data.” He also demanded a CAG audit from the time of unbundling of the Delhi Vidyut Board and setting up of the private discoms.

The BJP also staged a protest against the hearing, which they consider an “eye wash” and a prelude to “revision of power tariffs”. “DERC is a mask used by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and her Congress colleagues to help private discoms at the expense of citizens of Delhi who are being forced to brace up for yet another hike in power tariff,” Mr. Goel said.

“The Chief Minister might put on hold this hike to control political backlash prior to the Assembly polls, but the fact remains that once DERC has accepted the inflated claims [of the discoms], the hike in power tariff will be inevitable immediately after the elections. It is deplorable that the Delhi Government is working so blatantly in favour of the discoms,” he added.

DERC’s repeated assertions that there is no preconceived power tariff and that it bats for the consumers found no takers. A consumer representative Saurabh Gandhi went to the extent of seeking a “judicial inquiry into the conduct of DERC”.

“We have reasons to believe that raising of tariffs, and that too in stiff doses over the past 18 months, is arbitrary. The manner in which DERC has been taking cues from Delhi Chief Minister’s statements and throwing reasoned facts placed before it to the wind is very unprofessional,” said Rajiv Kakria, Chairman, E-Block, GK-I RWA.

Among the issues raised at the public hearing were the hitherto unmet demands of open access, where the consumers can choose their supplier; abolishment of fixed charges; carrying out energy audits; making energy guzzlers pay more; more subsidy for the low usage consumers; and implementation of performance standards.

Environmental watchdog Greenpeace criticised the absence of a policy on renewable energy and said that instead of penalising the discoms for non-compliance of renewable purchase obligation targets, the regulator was instead making the common consumers pay more for electricity coming from expensive and dirty fossil fuel like coal.

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