Opinion

The making of Arvind Hugo Kejriwal

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on March 13, 2018

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Hugo!?

Yes, as in Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías.

The Venezuelan leader?

The same. Remember, soon after he came to power in 1999, the socialist leader had unleashed an intense nationalisation drive, forcing investors out of the South American country. One can find some parallels in the way Arvind Kejriwal has ascended to power in Delhi and how Chavez took power in Venezuela. Both enjoy immense popular support and both supported systemic changes.

Kejriwal’s not talking nationalisation...

Not in so many words. But there are obvious shades of nationalisation in the tussle between power distribution companies in Delhi and the Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government. On February 4, the Delhi government said it was ready to take over power distribution in the city-state.

But why?

The government felt the discoms — mainly the two Anil Ambani firms, BSES Yamuna and BSES Rajdhani — were not playing fair. These two companies supply power to more than 70 per cent of the capital. There has been huge public outcry against the companies for allegedly overcharging — one of the key issues during the Delhi Assembly polls held in December 2013.

So what’s the government doing now?

Just a few weeks ago, Kejriwal requested the CAG to look into the accounts of three distribution companies, much to the ire of the discoms. The discoms decided to move the courts against the audit and the two Reliance Anil Ambani Group discoms threatened long power cuts.

They said they had no money to pay power generator NTPC its outstanding dues. The issue got heated up when the Delhi government asked the Delhi Electricity Regulator to revoke their licences under section 19 (d) of the Electricity Act, 2003.

Such measures have already made private players jittery. The Anil Ambani Group has said the proposal to initiate a CAG probe was “arbitrary” and “illegal” and will be a huge setback to power sector reforms in Delhi, which was notorious for marathon outages just a decade ago.

Yes, those Delhi Vidyut Board days...

Indeed. The private players brought in professionalism and best practices into power distribution in Delhi. There have been obvious gains. Just sample this: Load shedding reduced from around 5 per cent in 2000-01 to 0.3 per cent in 2012-13. Mind you, Delhi’s per capita power use is the highest in India — 1,651 kWh. The national average is 778 kWh.

But Delhi consumers feel they are being looted.

Power tariffs have gone up several times for sure. But transmission and distribution losses have come down to about 15 per cent or less from more than 50 per cent during the Delhi Vidyut Board days. By trying to take over the reins of power distribution, Kejriwal is actually trying to bring the babudom and the corrupt practices embedded in it back to the power sector, private players argue.

Agreed, but shouldn’t erring firms be taken to task?

Of course, they should be. But the companies say there should be a democratic and transparent process. Professionalism rather than the politics of populism should power such processes, they say. Else it will antagonise private players and a flight of private capital will not augur well for a state like Delhi. Like Chavez’s Venezuela which, despite its rich oil resources, has failed to grow beyond populist policies.

Published on February 12, 2014

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