A board of power meters hang in a shop. (Photographer: Adam Ferguson/Bloomberg News)  

Gujarat Pardons Power Bills Of Rural And Poor Consumers

Gujarat waived power bills of rural households, farmers and small businesses that faced disconnection for not paying up as competitive populism sweeps India after loss of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in key state elections.

“There are 6,22,000 such connections across villages with bills worth Rs 650 crore pending,” Saurabh Patel, energy minister in Modi’s home state, said in a statement. “These could be bills for use of power in agriculture, homes, commercial purposes—all these will be forgiven.”

The one-time exemption is for rural consumers whose payments are outstanding or have received bills against irregularities and power theft. In urban areas, it only covers families living below the poverty line.

India is witnessing a spate of populist measures ahead of the general election in 2019 after the BJP faced a setback largely because of rural and farm distress. The newly elected Congress government in Madhya Pradesh waived farm loans up to Rs 2 lakh to fulfill its poll promise. A similar waiver was announced in Chhattisgarh. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has also promised one in Rajasthan. In what seems like the BJP’s response to the Congress’ populism, the party’s government in Gujarat pardoned power bills and announced a farm loan waiver aggregating Rs 600 crore in Assam.

The Gujarat government decided to waive electricity bills up to Dec. 18, 2018. It will accept claims from Dec. 19 to Feb. 28, 2019, according to the statement. To avail the waiver, customers will have to pay Rs 500 each.

Families below the poverty line will be given a new connection free of cost, while others will have to apply at regular rates.

The state expects the waiver to benefit farmers hurt by deficient rainfall and unable to pay bills. Disconnection also means that they didn’t have electricity to draw water using pumps and tube-wells. The one-time benefit would also help clear all dues, pending litigation and reduce administrative costs.