Farmers across Rajasthan state are likely to join in a protest called by the All India Kisan Sabha, the farmers' union of the CPI-M, to protest the hike in electricity tariff in the state. Calling on even those in cities paying higher tariffs for domestic consumption to join protests, the farmers said they would hold a rally outside prominent power offices across the state on January 16.
Former MLA and leader of the farmers' union Pemaram said that since the year 2000, what used to be the Rajasthan Vidyut Board was divided into five companies - one each engaged in production and distribution and three in supply. The purpose of the bifurcation of responsibilities was to curtail losses, but quite the opposite has happened - from losses of Rs 5,000 crore in 2000, the power companies have now piled up combined loss of Rs1lakh crore.
"In a bid now to make good those losses, the government is burdening already poor farmers and ordinary domestic consumers. The mounting losses are not the fault of the common people. There is enormous corruption by successive governments, which have treated the power sector like a high-yielding Jersey cow and attempted to milk it dry," said Pemaram.
Addressing a press conference on Monday, the farmers' leader said the hike ranges from 20% to 40%. The flat rate for power use in agriculture used to be Rs85 per horse power. Now it is Rs120. Domestic consumers got power at Rs 5.30 per unit, they are now being forced to pay Rs6.25 per unit.
Corruption is evident in how the government has conducted itself - the Suratgarh thermal station was shut for a long spell in the name of maintenance and power was purchased from a private firm - Adani - at exorbitant prices. Also, equipment like meters and transformers have been purchased through corrupt procedures that have bled the treasury. The corruption has pervaded even the sale of scrap material, the CPI-M affiliated leader said. What is also interesting that while earlier, transformers would function without a glitch for about 30 years the new equipment is sub-standard and springs troubles just months after installation.
"Rajasthan is perhaps the only state that has decided to defy basic engineering and have 11,000 kw of power flow directly into transformers without DO switches," Pemaram said.
The farmers' leaders said they had drawn out a whole calendar of protests across the state, and had been having massive rallies since last November. "Farmers will begin to boycott electricity bills. They will rally in such large numbers that the government will be left with no option but to roll back the hike in electricity tariffs, just like in 2005. One only has to look at what consumers in Delhi pay to understand that cheaper electricity is possible," Pemaram said.