The Weekend Leader - Power bills 'shock' sparks off new controversy in Maharashtra

Power bills 'shock' sparks off new controversy in Maharashtra



Another war of words erupted on Wednesday between Maharashtra's ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party after the government ruled out any "concessions" to consumers over inflated electricity bills during the lockdown period.

Energy Minister Nitin Raut blamed the Centre for not clearing the state's dues on GST which could have enabled the government to extend relief to the consumers, as he had hinted before Diwali.

However, state BJP President Chandrakant Patil, Leaders of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis (Assembly) and Pravin Darekar (Council), senior leader Ashish Shelar and others slammed the government for letting down the consumers who are burdened with inflated power bills.

"The people of the state are already under stress due to the pandemic lockdown Despite making promises, the government has failed to provide any reliefs. Now, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray must intervene in the matter and rescue the consumers," said Shelar.

Justifying the move, Raut said that given the overall financial condition of the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co Ltd (MSEDCL), it was not possible to give any relief, though the final decision would be taken by the Chief Minister.

He also slammed the BJP for not collecting the pending dues during its tenure which has left the government over-burdened with no options but to recover the dues.

"The MSEDCL is a customer and has to buy electricity from outside... different types of charges need to be paid. The payments are not made by consumers and a huge amount of 31 percent is still outstanding, so we cannot give relief," Raut said.

The current debt burden of the state electricity companies is estimated at around Rs 69,000 crore and it was not possible to make further borrowals, the minister contended.

He reiterated that although the state government attempted very hard to provide relief to the consumers, but the Centre was ready to give loans at 10.8 percent interest, which was not acceptable as it would add to the government's burden.

Responding to the Opposition onslaught, Disaster Management Minister Vijay Wadettiwar and other Congress leaders asked the BJP leaders to use their goodwill and help the state government get relief from the Centre which was "giving a stepmotherly treatment to the state".

In June-July, many people including Bollywood personalities and celebs from different fields had protested after receiving exorbitant power bills when consumption was less during the earlier lockdown phases from March-May.

While some people were slapped with bills that ran into a few thousand rupees, others got bills of Rs 50,000 and a few for even higher amounts, leading to outrage.

Earlier this month, Raut had indicated that the government would provide some relief, but now he has said that though nobody's power connection would be cut, all would have to pay up and could do so in three instalments.

Moreover, he assured that all complaints of alleged excess bills would be examined before taking a decision on them, even as friendly party Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetti demanded relief for consumers while women activist Trupti Desai warned of "dire consequences" if the excess bills were recovered.

Upset by the latest decision, consumers groups and activists staged protests in different parts of the state condemning the government. - IANS

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