Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal Monday asked the finance and power departments to send in proposals to bring down power and water bills in the Capital, a poll promise made by his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Electricity and water were among the main poll issues in the recently concluded Delhi elections, with consumers complaining of being overcharged for poor services.
“The chief minister has directed the finance and power departments to immediately send their proposals,” a government spokesperson said.
Holding the first meeting of the Delhi cabinet, which was sworn in on Sunday, Kejriwal called for suggestions from the two departments for halving power tariff till the CAG audit was completed, the spokesperson said.
The CM also wanted provision made for providing 20,000 litres of free water a month to every household.
Kejriwal was informed about the financial implications of the moves, sources said. Power subsidy will cost Rs 1,500 crore per year, while the exchequer will have to cough up Rs 260 crore for water annually.
Delhi depends on other states for both power and water and experts have expressed doubts about the viability of making the two utilities cheaper.
Consumers pay Rs 4 for up to 200 units of power. Those who use up to 400 units a month – average consumption of a middle-class home in the Capital — pay Rs 5.95 for a unit. Once the subsidy is announced, the cost will drop to Rs 2 and Rs 2.97 per unit, respectively.
The AAP, which swept to power in Delhi on February 10 with a brute majority of 67 in a House of 70, had promised to reduce power bills by half if voted to power.
During his earlier 49-day rule, Kejriwal had subsidised power and water within hours of taking over as the chief minister. The government had also ordered a CAG audit into the finances of three private power distribution companies in the Capital.
Unlike the last time, the government has not set a deadline for subsidies to kick in though Kejriwal has called for a quick action.
Providing subsidies would create trouble for the government, sources said. It would have to shift the burden to the public by way of other taxes as revenue collection had taken hit in the past few months.
The cabinet also decided to recommend that the first session of the Delhi assembly be called on February 23 and 24 for swearing in MLAs and electing the Speaker and deputy Speaker.
On Day 1, the Kejriwal-led government also banned any kind of demolition in residential colonies and slum clusters in the national capital.
The direction issued to the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), the north, east and south Delhi municipal corporations, Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and the departments of environment and forests and revenue, came a day after residents of a slum cluster in east Delhi’s Shahdara protested outside the CM’s residence in Kaushambi.
The concerned agencies have been asked to put off demolitions till a review of a situation is complete.
The BJP, however, claimed the ban was already in place, adding that the Delhi government does not have the power or jurisdiction to pass such an order.
No media, please
Media was banned from the secretariat building on Monday, resulting in protests by a section of journalists. Deputy CM Manish Sisodia who came to address a press meet was not allowed to speak.
"We have orders from senior government officials not to let mediapersons enter the premises," a security person said.
Nagendra Sharma, media adviser to chief minister Kejriwal, said the new government had not issued any direction that favours banning the entry of journalists inside the secretariat.
"Before new government took charge, a circular was already in place which banned the entry of media into the Delhi Secretariat. New government has issued no direction in this regard. Give me one or two days, I will sort out this matter," Sharma told reporters.