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Millennium Post

Seeing through the shenanigans

The seed of popular protest and making legitimate demands peacefully was sown in Delhi by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party, but it seems other states of India have already started reaping its benefits. After Maharashtra government headed by Prithviraj Chavan cut power tariffs by 15-20 per cent in the rest of the state except Mumbai, clearly inspired by AAP-led sit-ins that have been branded as ‘populist anarchy’ by even the President, Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam went on a three-day fast to protest against the inflated electricity bills in the state capital. Nirupam, who had threatened to immolate himself in front of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Energy office at Kandivali West if the tariffs were not brought down, was obviously giving voice to a bigger grievance festering at the heart of the country’s commercial capital. Nirupam has openly accused the power distribution companies operating in Mumbai, Reliance Energy and Tata Power, of cartelisation and tampering with the ratings in collusion with the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) and the state government. His demand of power subsidy for 23 lakh residential consumers in Mumbai, who anyway pay more than Rs 2,500 crore every year in power tax and electricity duty to the state government, is not only a crucial component of nationwide power sector reform and cleansing it of the post-privatisation ills, but it is also symptomatic of a larger movement to bring about socioeconomic equalities in every sphere of political culture.

Much like Kejriwal’s pre and post-poll agitations and civil protests to place legitimate demands for the aam aadmi, Nirupam’s insistence on power subsidisation and reinstating transparency in the entire process comprising meter reading, billing costs, meter capital costs as well as auditing costs of maintaining and connecting to the power grid is absolute valid and just. The Congress MP from Mumbai North and AICC General Secretary also wants audit of all the power companies supplying electricity to Mumbai as well as expects REL to roll back its fixed charges, wheeling charges and retail asset charge in order to reduce the prospective subsidy bill burden on the state government. It is obvious that huge benefits in kickbacks and other forms have been exchanged to keep the Mumbai power tariffs shooting through the roof and make the corporate giants in Reliance Energy and Tata Power happy at the expense of the ordinary people of the city of Mumbai. Nevertheless, if the AAP-led mass protests have succeeded in the national capital to the extent that the Supreme Court has not stayed the Delhi government order to bring the discoms under CAG audit in a bid to instill greater accountability and transparency in the process, Nirupam-headed faction of the Maharashtra Congress could also bring a turnaround in the pitiable power situation of Mumbai.
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