The promise to reduce power tariff by 50% in Delhi had triggered a furious debate between the manifesto committee of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was headed by Yogendra Yadav, and party researchers who were throwing up numbers that made the proposal look like mission impossible.
"We had looked at the statutory advice issued by the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) and we realised that the figures were daunting," a senior AAP member told HT, requesting anonymity. "But Arvind was keen that we go ahead with the promise and personally overrode our discussions and included it in the manifesto," the member said.
In its statutory advice in February this year, the DERC had warned that the revenue gap was in the region of Rs. 19,000 crore. The power regulator warned that "…tariffs could become unsustainable, especially when compared to other states…" and urgently recommended seeking help from the central government.
The commission had pointed out that there had been resistance on part of the Centre to provide any assistance to Delhi since it was one of the few states that had privatised its power distribution. "There is a mistaken notion amongst …important opinion makers that any government support to the privately managed distribution companies would be seen as a bailout package…"
A former DERC member told HT that Delhi was particularly unfortunate when it came to power tariff. "We have not received any central government support ever since power distribution was privatised. The power plants we depend on to generate power draw their coal from coal fields situated very far away and the transportation costs are prohibitively high. We don't get any hydel power which is cheap and we are unable to sell any surplus power at higher tariffs to other states. This has resulted in a major mess and a hike in tariffs is inevitable." The worst hit, he said, would be the middle class who usually consume more than 400 units every month.
Sources in AAP told HT that Kejriwal would have to try and formulate a multi-pronged approach if he had to meet this key poll promise. He will have to seek central assistance but that is unlikely because even the Congress-led Shiela Dikshit government failed to do so during her tenure.
Kejriwal will also have to try and convince his counterparts in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to buy Delhi's surplus power at off-peak hours at higher prices. This used to be a major revenue source till 2010, when it was stopped.
Kejriwal is also banking on seeking an audit of the private discoms under section 20(1) of the CAG Act that allows public utilities to be investigated.
But DERC sources told HT that this is unlikely to have any major impact on tariff because most of the losses projected by the private discoms are genuine. "At best, he may recover a few hundred crores. But with a deficit of Rs. 19,000 crore, this will be woefully short," the senior AAP member said.