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Lok Sabha: Electricity Bill Tabled for Passage Amid Stiff Protests by Opposition Members

The Bill’s introduction was opposed by RSP’s N K Premachandran, Congress’s Manish Tewari and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, CPI(M)’s M A Arif, TMC’s Saugata Roy and DMK leader T R Baalu.
Why Government Must Not Steam-roll Crucial Laws in Monsoon Session

Parliament of India. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi: A Bill to amend the Electricity Act to allow non-discriminatory open access to distribution networks of power suppliers was introduced in Lok Sabha on Monday amid protests by the Opposition, which said that it sought to take away certain rights of state governments.

Power Minister R K Singh introduced the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2022 and urged Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to refer it to a parliamentary standing committee for wider consultations to address concerns raised by the Opposition.

Opposing the introduction of the Bill, RSP member N K Premachandran, Congress members Manish Tewari and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, CPI(M)’s M A Arif, Trinamool member Saugata Roy and DMK leader T R Baalu said the draft legislation was against the federal structure of the Constitution.

Premachandran said electricity was on the concurrent list and it was the "bounden duty" of the Centre to have “effective consultations” with state governments before introducing the Bill.

Tewari said the Bill sought to allow multiple private companies to provide electricity in the same area, a provision that could lead to "privatisation of profits and nationalisation of losses".

He contended that the legislation also sought to reduce the role of the Centre in distribution of electricity.

Roy and Arif said the Bill was contrary to the assurances given by the Narendra Modi government to the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, which had laid a year-long siege to the national capital demanding roll back of agricultural reforms and shelving of proposed amendments to the Electricity Act.

Baalu said the Tamil Nadu government was giving free electricity to farmers for the past several years and the proposed amendments could affect “poor farmers” who receive free power.

The Power Minister claimed the Opposition members were indulging in "false propaganda" against the Bill.

"The farmers will continue to get free power. There will be no roll back of subsidy," Minister Singh said amid calls for wider consultations on the measure.

"We have consulted the states and other stakeholders. This bill is pro-people and pro-farmers," Singh said as he introduced the Bill.

Opposition members demanded a division on the motion moved by the minister to introduce the Bill, which was rejected by the Speaker.

"You can seek division only from your respective seats and not from the Well," the Speaker said.

The Opposition resorted to sloganeering for a while and then staged a walkout from Lok Sabha.

The Bill is aimed at allowing privatisation of electricity on the lines of communication. If the bill is passed in both the houses, customers will have the option to choose the supplier of electricity just like one can choose for telephone, mobile and internet services.

The Bill seeks to amend Section 42 of the Electricity Act to facilitate non-discriminatory open access to the distribution network of a distribution licensee.

It also seeks to amend Section 14 of the Act to facilitate usage of distribution networks by all licensees under provisions of non-discriminatory open access with the objective of enabling competition, enhancing efficiency of distribution licensees for improving services and ensuring sustainability of the power sector. 

It also seeks to amend Section 62 of the Act to make provisions vis-à-vis graded revision in tariff over a year besides mandatory fixing of maximum ceiling and minimum tariff by the appropriate commission. It provides for amending section 166 to strengthen functions that will be discharged by the regulators. 

The Bill also seeks to amend Section 146 to convert the rate of punishment from imprisonment or fine to fine. The Bill, as tabled, will also amend Section 152 to facilitate decriminalisation of offence as it would be mandatory to accept compounding. 

Bill will benefit few companies: Kejriwal

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday termed the proposed amendments to the Electricity Act as "dangerous" and urged the Centre to not go ahead with it in haste, claiming that it will only benefit a few power distribution companies.

He said the Electricity Amendment Bill 2022 increase suffering of the people as it will make problems associated with power supply and distribution more serious instead of addressing it.

"The Electricity Amendment Bill is being brought in Lok Sabha today. This law is very dangerous," Kejriwal said in a tweet in Hindi.

"This will make the electricity problem more serious, instead addressing it. People's suffering will increase. Only a few companies will benefit. I appeal to the Centre to not bring this (bill) in haste," he added.

The AAP's Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab Sandeep Pathak said it is "very unfortunate" that the central government is going ahead with the Bill in the Lok Sabha after reneging on its own point.

"It is an attack on the rights of the state and also an attack on the federal structure of the country," he charged in a tweet in Hindi.

AIPEF For Standing Committee Scrutiny

Several organisations have raised objections to the proposed amendments to the Electricity Act, 2003.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, the All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) chairman Shailendra Dubey sought his intervention in the matter and appealed to him to refer the bull to the Standing Committee of Parliament for a detailed discussion with all the stakeholders.

He  said the claim of providing choice of multiple service providers to power consumers in the Electricity Amendment Bill 2022, was "misleading" and will make state-run discoms loss making entities.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) has demanded that the bill be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy for wider consultation.

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