June 04, 2020
Speaking at a Webinar organised by CUTS International titled ‘Electricity Act (Amendment) Bill 2020: What’s in it for consumers?, Shri Suresh Prabhu, Former Union Power Minister, highlighted that centralisation would be a good idea for the states themselves, as a more commercially viable sector would lead to more power availability for the consumers and in turn greater benefits for states. He further added that this move would streamline the concept of direct benefit transfers in the power sector to reach the consumers who actually require them.
The discussion was initiated by Udai S. Mehta, Deputy Executive Director, CUTS International, who outlined the recent developments leading up to these amendments. He went on to highlight the systemic nature of the Power sector in India and hence the need for looking at the consumers as shareholders and not mere stakeholders, when such landmark reforms are being undertaken.
The session was chaired by Dr. Geeta Gouri, Former Member, Competition Commission of India, who while optimistic about the proposed amendments, stressed on the centralisation of power being proposed in the amendments and the implications of a sector which was set to be a nexus of contracts.
Following this the multidimensional panel deliberated over the diverse provisions of the proposed amendments. In this context, Gireesh B. Pradhan, Former Chairperson, CERC, remarked that ‘the way to purgatory is good intentions’. However, he questioned the need for a contract enforcement agency, an additional regulatory authority, in a sector which already has existing central and state authorities having overlapping powers.
Shantanu Dixit, Group Coordinator, Prayas Energy Group, put forward the consumer perspective. While he stressed on the need for such amendments he highlighted they are piecemeal in their approach and require a long term perspective. He acknowledged the need for introduction of subsidies and direct benefit transfers but stressed on the need for effective implementation for their actual realisation.
Ashok Pendse, an eminent Consumer Advocate from Maharashtra, highlighted the example of the state in the context of consumer empowerment in the Power sector. He compared private and state utilities and expressed the ambiguity in the concept of ‘privatisation’. He further emphasised that at the end of the day, effective implementation depends on the overall functioning of a utility, irrespective of its characteristics.
Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj, put forward the farmers’ perspective and remarked that the cross-subsidisation of farmers at the expense of industries often becomes reflected as an unfair move. He stressed on the need for hyper-localisation of subsidies to improve their efficiencies. He concluded by highlighting the alarming implication of power subsidies on depleting water resources, especially in the context of Punjab.
Ashwini K Swain, Fellow, Centre for Policy Research focussed on the aspect of renewables and advocated for the need for a larger discourse on energy rather than stressing on solar energy and hydro-power. He further questioned the need for multiple policies on renewable energy.
The webinar which witnessed the participation of over 100 participants was concluded by Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International, who summarised the critical insights that were brought forward by the panel and added another dimension to the sectoral reforms from a business perspective. He highlighted the implication of power costs on the business competitiveness of industries and the need for reforms in that context.
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