Maharashtra: No relief on inflated electricity bills; pay as per reading, says energy minister Nitin Raut
Contrary to the Diwali bonanza hinted at by energy minister Nitin Raut, the power consumers of the state received a rude shock on Tuesday as the minister announced that the government will not be able to provide any relaxation in the inflated electricity bills that consumers received post-lockdown. Electricity consumers in the state will have to pay the full amount, the minister said.
However, the state government has provided the facility of payment in three instalments and has also announced an incentive for payment in one go, Raut said. The announcement comes as a shock to thousands of consumers, who have reported inflated bills after the lockdown period.
The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government attempted to provide relief to the consumers but the burden on the state exchequer would have mounted, energy department officials said. Raut, earlier this month, had hinted at relief for consumers saying a Diwali gift is in the offing. The energy department had sent a proposal to the finance department seeking relief for consumers.
Raut blamed the Centre for not helping the state and seeking interest on the financial assistance sought in the matter. “I tried everything possible to provide relief to power consumers but when we sought assistance from the Centre, they offered to give funds at 10.8% interest. We contended that this assistance was sought to provide relief to the people. The discussion on this has ended. We have already completed 69% bill recovery,” the minister said. He added, “[Consumers] will have to pay as per the meter readings. [After lockdown] correction in meter readings has also taken place.”
During the lockdown, the power corporation staff were not able to physically record meter readings and the bills were an approximation based on past usage. Several people, including celebrities in Mumbai and other parts of the state, complained about the bills during the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some consumers even reported inflated bills in locked houses.
“We provided electricity 24x7 during lockdown and bills have to be paid as per the readings. Even Mahavitaran [Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited] is a consumer, it buys electricity from other sources. Today we [MSEDCL] are facing a debt of Rs69,000 crore, we cannot avail further debt at this stage. Consumers, who have used electricity, and whose bills are found accurate as per the meter reading, must pay the bills,” Raut added.
The minister added that there would not be any disconnection of power due to non-payment. He added that the notification issued by his department has allowed payment in parts and announced incentives as well. “We have already given orders to inspect whether the bills are accurate. If found accurate, we have given [residents] an option to pay in three instalments, if they pay it in one go, they would get an incentive of 2%. We have taken the decision keeping people in mind,” he said.
The issue of the inflated bills has also gained political traction as the Bharatiya Janata Party and Maharashtra Navnriman Sena (MNS) have raised the issue. BJP leaders held protests in the city in the past few months, while MNS chief Raj Thackeray met governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari last month seeking his intervention in the issue of inflated bills. Thackeray accused the MVA government of dragging its feet on the issue.