The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Power subsidy for the poor on CPM table

Calcutta, Dec. 18: Struggling to come to terms with the difficulties in subsidising power for domestic consumers, the ruling CPM today began exploring the possibility of charting a middle path.

According to CPM officials, such a path would mean, in electoral terms, likely subsidies for the rural poor — a big chunk of whom will vote in the panchayat polls next year.

The situation arising after the state electricity regulatory commission’s abolition of cross-subsidy would be discussed at a meeting of CPM secretariat members on Friday. The discussions on subsidy for the rural poor will be influenced by several factors, including the severe cash crunch confronting the state government.

In preliminary discussions among party leaders, it has been suggested that something should be done to look after the interests of the rural poor, particularly those who have below poverty level ration cards.

“We plan to do something for the poor people in the rural areas. But we are not yet sure what we can do,” said a CPM leader, indicating that the party is eager to protect the rural masses because of the panchayat elections.

The Supreme Court had said that if the government wanted to give any subsidy, it should choose the beneficiary and bear the cost itself. But power department sources said it was not possible for the cash-strapped government to provide subsidy to all.

State officials have now begun to grudgingly accept the inevitability of an end to cross-subsidy but they claimed that the commission’s decision to abolish it at one go and fix a single rate has put the government in a quandary.

The government, which has decided to move court against the commission’s order, is now hoping for a court directive allowing the implementation of the new policy in phases.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today wrote to the Prime Minister, requesting legislative amendments to ease the situation.

A senior power ministry official said in Delhi that the Electricity Regulatory Commission Act could be amended if “it is in the larger interest of all concerned”. But he added that discussions can begin only after specific proposals are made.

Another official said an electricity Bill is pending before Parliament and some of the concerns could be addressed at standing committee meetings before the legislation is finalised.

State power minister Mrinal Banerjee yesterday met CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and Left Front chairman Biman Bose and briefed them.

Biswas, who along with Bose flagged off a Left Front rally on Rani Rashmoni Avenue this evening, said there is no alternative now but to launch a widespread movement against the commission’s ruling.

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