Over the last week, opposition parties and thousands of residents of Andhra Pradesh have been staging protests against the increase in electricity usage charges and over the new power tariff system introduced for the financial year 2020-21 beginning April 1. A significant section of the populace, ranging from those residing in villages to small scale entrepreneurs have complained that their electricity usage charges have been increased by five to ten times as compared to previous charges.
On May 18, thousands of persons across the state participated in protest demonstrations by showing placards and raising slogans in front of their residences against the increased electricity charges, heeding to the call of Left parties in the state including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) and the Communist Party of India (CPI). The same day, state police placed several leaders, including C.H. Babu Rao from the CPI(M) and Jalli Wilson from the CPI, under house arrest.
Left parties have demanded the state government to withdraw the hike in the new power tariff and opposed the draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
Following public outrage, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy asked officials from the power department to defer the electricity bills to the end of June.
As per government officials, bills for the month of April were based on the new tariff order that decides the slab on a dynamic basis, based on consumption. The new order also hiked electricity charges for domestic consumers by 90 paise per unit, if their monthly consumption exceeded 500 units.
Speaking to NewsClick on the changes in the new order, C.H. Babu Rao, CPI(M) state secretariat member said: “With the introduction of the slab system on a dynamic basis, all sections of people, from those consuming 75 units per month to small and medium scale sectors have been affected.”
The new system has also had an impact on subsidies given to SC and ST families. “While SC/ST families have not been charged if their monthly consumption is below 200 units, but for the month of April, those who were getting the subsidy were charged, resulting in confusion,” added Babu Rao.
Opposition parties including the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have also staged protests demanding the withdrawal of the new tariff order.
“The BJP in the state should first question its top leaders on electricity reforms instead of indulging in drama politics,” Babu Rao told NewsClick. He added that the new draft electricity amendment bill recently introduced by the central government will have a huge impact on the state. “So far, CM Jagan Mohan Reddy has been silent despite the draft bill provisions that affect power related subsidies in the state,” he added.
Opposing the proposed Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020, the CPI(M) said: “Currently, farmers in many states get free power for agricultural operations. MSMEs and smaller industrial units also get concessions. All this will go. This means the agrarian distress will further deepen and the informal sector employing the largest number of people will be rendered unviable.”