New schemes for Maharashtra farmers, no relief from inflated power bills for residents
In a bid to recover arrears from farmers for electricity bills of agricultural pumps amounting to ₹41,000 crore, the Maharashtra government declared an amnesty scheme on Thursday. It has decided to waive off interest, penalty and rebate on payment of pending power bills. It has also declared a new policy under which a target of providing two lakh new connections in two years and at least eight-hour power supply during the day to all farmers in the next three years has been set. The government has decided to spend around ₹1,500 crore annually till 2024 to implement the policy.
However, the state is yet to clear a proposal for providing relief from inflated power bills to residential consumers. In August, it had planned to bear the financial burden of the surplus amount from the inflated bills for three months of the lockdown period — April, May and June, but the scheme is yet to get an approval that will cost around ₹1,100 crore to the state exchequer.
State energy minister Nitin Raut on Tuesday said that the government cannot provide any relief to consumers over-inflated bills as the state has a huge financial burden and it is not getting any aid from the Central government. This has led to sharp reactions, with opposition parties declaring to start agitations from Monday.
The issue of arrears against electricity bills of agricultural pumps was discussed in the state cabinet meeting held on Thursday. The ministers were informed that the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) is yet to recover power bills from farmers for agricultural pumps since the past couple of years. The unrecovered amount has ballooned to around ₹41,000 crore, said a senior official privy to the development.
“Every year, ₹5,000-₹6,000 crore gets added to the arrears as only 8% of farmers pay their power bills regularly. Now the amount of pending bills has increased so much that financially they can’t pay. Thus, the state government has decided to come up with the amnesty scheme,” said Aseem Gupta, principal secretary, state energy department.
According to the scheme, penalty and interest on the actual amount of the bill pending prior to 2015 will be waived off. For bills pending since 2015, penalty will be waived off and the interest amount will be reduced to half. In addition, rebates of 100%, 30% and 20% will be given to those who pay their pending bills in the first year, second year and third year, respectively, since the declaration of the scheme.
“The recovered amount will be divided into three parts. As much as 33% of the recovered amount will be reserved for the concerned gram panchayat to improve the infrastructure of the local power network. Another 33% will be reserved for the concerned district for the same purpose, and the rest of the money will be used to purchase power by the state,” Gupta said.
The state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit has declared to start a statewide protest from Monday where they will be burning copies of power bills. “People had received inflated power bills during the lockdown period. The state government has declared to provide relief to the people and now the energy minister has taken a U-turn. The government has betrayed the people,” State BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said on Thursday.
MNS leader Sandeep Deshpande, on Thursday, hinted at taking the issue to the streets, stating that they have already tried to have a dialogue with the state government. “Applications, requests, meetings, it’s all done. But the state government is not listening,” Deshpande tweeted. On Wednesday, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s (MNS) Avinash Jadhav also said that the party will not tolerate if people are forced to pay bills.
With inputs from Tanushree Venkatraman