Will give free power if we have money, says Maharashtra Energy Minister

Updated: 21 November, 2020 15:15 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Energy Minister Nitin Raut challenges the BJP to prove lockdown bills are inflated, the CM orders probe into accumulation of arrears and drop in profitability of Maharashtra's power companies

BJP Mahila Morcha members protest outside the state power company's Bandra headquarters, Prakashgad, on Friday. Pic/PTI
BJP Mahila Morcha members protest outside the state power company's Bandra headquarters, Prakashgad, on Friday. Pic/PTI

Energy minister Nitin Raut on Friday said he hasn't backtracked on the promise of giving 100 units of power free per connection but the state company's depleted coffers are not allowing the government to take an immediate decision.

He said the state company would be able to spend Rs 6,000 crore annually for free power if it recovered Rs 69,000 crore in bill arrears (of which Rs 40,000 crore dues are from farmers). He put the onus of accumulated bill arrears on the previous BJP-led government.

Raut said a committee appointed to prepare a free power proposal couldn't meet amid the pandemic, but it has been asked to submit the report as early as possible. "They say I haven't kept my word, but I say I will work on fulfilling the promise in the future. There should be no problem if we recover the dues that have increased since 2014 (the year BJP took over)," he said, adding that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has ordered an enquiry into the accumulation of arrears and drop in profitability of the three state-owned power companies, the distribution utility in particular, that work under the parent company, Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB).

Prove bills are inflated

Raut blamed the BJP for politicising the issue and challenged opposition leaders to prove that bills are inflated. "Out of 11.66 lakh consumer complaints, only 37,000 are left to be resolved. BJP leaders should bring me the bills for correction, if any. If consumers have been correctly charged, the BJP leaders should pay the bills. I trust my state company," Raut said at a media conference, adding that 69 per cent consumers of the state company Mahavitaran had paid the post-lockdown bills. He said even Bollywood celebrities and corporate leaders are happy with the resolution of their complaints.

"The BJP should protest against the Centre because it did not give us a grant of Rs 10,000 crore. Instead, it offered us a loan at 10 per cent interest. The Centre is a loan shark and it should also release a GST share of R28,000 crore. If we get all dues from the Centre, then, like farmers, we will be able to offer sops to consumers," stated Raut, calling for an amnesty scheme for consumers of agricultural pumps as a way of waiving off bills worth Rs 20,000 crore.

Hogwash, says Fadnavis

Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis called the amnesty hogwash. "Farmers don't have resources to pay bills (and arrears) that, in some cases, amount to over R50,000. How many farmers have R25,000 in cash to pay if he were to avail the amnesty which offers 100 per cent or 50 per cent credit?" he asked.

Responding to the accumulation of arrears claim, he demanded documents of power companies from 1999 to 2019. "Our government didn't behave like a saavkar (money lender) in recovering the dues from distressed farmers. In fact, the state-owned companies were made more efficient," the former chief minister said. On Friday, BJP Mahila Morcha workers protested outside state power company's Bandra headquarters, Prakashgad. Mumbai BJP president Mangal Prabhat Lodha and party's 2021 BMC poll in-charge, MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar also participated.

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First Published: 21 November, 2020 07:07 IST

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