Let's be clear about one thing: residents of Delhi are a much pampered lot. But being the power centre, or the capital of the country, expecting good quality 24x7 electricity is not an unreasonable khwaish of its people. Having street lamps is not an unreasonable desire either. But remember by and large these are public services.
The irony of Dehi's privileged position is evident given that that the very definition of electrification in a village in India is that "at least 10 per cent of the total number of households in the village" should have electricity. And this definition was upgraded just ten years back and brought to "at least 10 per cent". But here we are talking about the capital – the nation's capital, the capital of an "emerging super power". A measly 10 per cent won't do here. We want 100 per cent. We want it 24x7. And we want it cheap.
The previous government some 14 years back attempted to improve the fate the Delhizens by simply privatizing the retail chain and handed it over to two companies. Sure, there was bidding etc. The simple thought was, 'if it works in Mumbai it will work in Delhi'. But apparently it has not.
With elections round the corner in the capital, leaders from Aam Admi Party echo that the private companies are looting Delhites, their numbers (accounts) are fudged, meters are faulty. Is that true? Maybe. Maybe not. How can one tell when the entire privatization exercise rests on the premise that these new players would cut down theft of electricity from over 60% to single-digit numbers to even zero (India's greatest contribution to mathematics) over a period of time with targets for each year?
During this period, the government committed to a subsidy in order to cushion consumers from price shocks and companies from not bleeding. And yes, it also put in place a regulator to oversee matters. Put simply, in order to cut down theft of electricity (any theft is an offence under law), the State got in the private chaps. Now isn't that an admission that the State can't check theft? You just can't leave it by saying the private companies are more efficient.
That said, Delhi had over 60 per cent of unaccounted electricity. But is this figure correct? Ask the companies, they will say No! And there is good reason to believe that this number is incorrect because there were no meters or even if they were, they didn't account for what was really being consumed. So when Arvind Kejriwal says that meters are running fast, the joke doing the rounds is that he is probably right...it would appear so as they was not running in the first place (you see, motion is relative).
In the same breath, reconnecting meters that were allegedly wrongly disconnected with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver in your hands is not going help. If anything, it is anarchist! We don't want that. And branding companies as thieves and cancelling licenses will achieve nothing– except legal battles.
First we need to understand what the problem is.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if one had 100 per cent assured power supply in Delhi? Simple: demand would go up. Latent demand would rise as people would want more aircons, more lights, more electrical gadgets – more consumption. Can we meet that demand? I don't think we are even aware that someone's saying "Houston, we have a problem". Think about it.