PATNA: An unprecedented hike of 55 per cent in power tariff announced by Bihar Electricity Regulatory Commission (BERC) sparked protests by Opposition BJP and its allies in both Houses of the State Legislature on Saturday, forcing the Nitish Kumar-led government to shrink the hike to 28 per cent.
The hike, which would be effective starting April 1, also brought to surface difference in opinion among the three ruling allies as some legislators of JD(U) and RJD said such a steep hike would hit the people too hard. Legislators of BJP and its allies LJP, RLSP and HAM chanted slogans against the State government, both in the Assembly and Legislative Council and demanded a rollback of the hike. Senior BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said his party would begin statewide agitations against the tariff hike.
In fact, the tariff hike was decided upon by BERC for the first time without taking into consideration government subsidy for BPL, rural domestic, rural non-domestic and agriculture consumers. The two discoms operating in Bihar had suggested an overall increase of 84 per cent hike in tariff for 2017-18. But BERC settled for 55 per cent. The steep hike also received criticism from industry bodies in the state.
While releasing the new tariff structure, BERC chairman SK Negi had said the hike would come down to 28 per cent if the State government extended subsidy support to BPL and rural consumers.
Anticipating massive resentment among the people, CM Nitish Kumar reportedly asked the energy department on Friday to review the impact of subsidy on tariffs and upon receiving a report on Saturday, decided to continue giving about Rs 4,000 crore subsidy to power consumers. Kumar then asked energy minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav to make a statement in the Assembly about 28 per cent hike in tariff.
“The government has decided to continue the subsidy in the power sector. The hike in tariff would now be 28 per cent. But the subsidy would go directly into the bank accounts of power consumers instead of being paid to the distribution companies,” said Yadav.