Guwahati, Aug. 19: The Assam government today announced schemes to provide electricity at subsidised rates to BPL and middle-class consumers and to initiate tough actions against power thieves, including a legislation to put them behind bars.
While Opposition parties have termed the scheme a populist move by the Congress government with an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, power minister Pradyut Bordoloi said its sole intention was to provide some relief to general consumers in view of rising electricity tariffs.
“The electricity tariff is fixed by the Assam Electricity Regulatory Commission, which is a quasi-judicial body set up in accordance with the provisions of the Electricity Act 2003.
“Thus, the government cannot interfere with its decisions about the power tariff. Moreover, given the unprecedented hike in prices of fuels like natural gas and coal, the government fears the electricity tariff in the state would increase exorbitantly,” Bordoloi told reporters here this afternoon.
He said though the cost of hydropower was relatively less, transmission and distribution expenses had gone up. “It is inevitable that power tariff will continue to rise. So the government has decided to give some relief to consumers by giving subsidies on electricity consumption up to 120 units,” Bordoloi said.
On the other hand, he said power reforms must continue in the state and the government had issued a slew of instructions to the Assam Power Distribution Company Ltd (earlier known as Assam State Electricity Board) to streamline distribution and transmission of electricity in the state.
“In the past three years, 16 lakh new households have added to the electricity distribution network. But a survey conducted by the Assam Power Distribution Company Ltd has revealed some disturbing facts. Among these 16 lakh new consumers, particularly those in rural areas, revenue collection is only 18 per cent. This implies that the remaining 82 per cent consumers are either not paying their power bills or the power company has not been able to collect the bills because of its own problems,” the power minister said.
Bordoloi said the Assam Power Distribution Company Ltd has been asked to improve its functioning, plug loopholes in collecting revenue and offer quality service to good customers who pay their bills on time. He said it was a matter of serious concern that power theft was still rampant in the state despite setting up 12 special police stations to deal with the menace.
“We are seriously contemplating a legislation to punish those involved in power theft. The legislation will have provisions to put power thieves behind bars,” he said.
Bordoloi said a Ring Fence System would be installed at 72 urban centres in the state to immediately detect incidence of power theft and any anomalies in the power distribution system.
Under the system, power department officials will be able to detect the exact point in the grid where power theft takes place while sitting in a control room. They can then initiate corrective measures.