As Oppn mounts protests, DMK govt hopes to ride out power tariff hike

As Oppn mounts protests, DMK govt hopes to ride out power tariff hike

BUSY grappling with the fallout of J Jayalalithaa’s demise and the long power struggle that followed, the AIADMK is mounting its first effective challenge to the Tamil Nadu government on the recent electricity tariff hike in the state.

On Friday, the AIADMK staged state-wide protests demanding that the DMK regime roll back the hike, with its interim general secretary E Palaniswami leading one such protest himself. Demanding that the government roll back the power tariff as well as the recent hike in property taxes, the former CM cited the economic burden left by the Covid pandemic and said the DMK regime does not understand the pulse of the public and their travails.

The revised tariff, after a gap of eight years, came into effect from September 10, and the increase varies from 11% to 45% depending on consumption. As per the new rates, on the request of the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (Tangedco), after the first 100 units of free electricity, domestic consumers would have to pay Rs 2.25 per unit uptil 200 units, Rs 4.50 per unit if consumption is between 201 and 400 units, and Rs 6 per unit for 401–500 units. Before the hike, it was Rs 2 per unit for 101-200 units, Rs 3 per unit for 201-500 units, along with a Rs 30 service charge.

Agricultural consumers will continue to enjoy free supply. The state has around 20 lakh free power connections to farmers.

Palaniswami has said the average hike is “34%”, and a huge burden on people. He also claims that the government has approved an annual hike till 2026-27, which means the DMK government will similarly raise rates every year and that “people will be paying 50% more power charges on an average by 2026”.

Denying the AIADMK’s charges, Power Minister Senthil Balaji, who was incidentally a minister with the AIADMK before joining the DMK ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, said Tamil Nadu’s power tariff remains lower than in other states. He also claimed that rise in tariffs for the MSME sector was a “minimal 23%” compared to “the 61% hike during Jayalalithaa’s regime”. Balaji was part of the Jayalalithaa cabinet.

A senior DMK leader, requesting anonymity, said the hike was unavoidable, and as much the AIADMK government’s fault. “If they had raised it periodically, it wouldn’t have been an issue. The last revision was about eight years ago when Jayalalithaa was the CM,” the leader said.

He added that Tangedco, was under intense pressure from the Centre to pursue power sector reforms and tariff revisions, and was severely stressed due to massive losses in the absence of a tariff revision.

The DMK also believes that this is the most politically prudent time to carry out the unpalatable revision. “People may be upset, but the hike will do minimal damage now. Next year would have been hardly one year left to the next polls,” the leader quoted above said, arguing that the other side (the BJP is an AIADMK ally) should first ponder about the steep hike in LPG gas cylinder prices, “from Rs 400 in 2014 to Rs 900 in 2022”.