Electricity Amendment Bill introduced in LS amid protests; referred to Parliamentary panel

Parliament. Representative image. File Photo.

New Delhi/Chandigarh: The contentious Electricity Amendment Bill, 2022 aimed at giving multiple players open access to distribution networks of power suppliers and also allowing consumers to choose any service provider was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday amid protests by the opposition.

Power Minister R K Singh introduced the bill to amend the Electricity Act, 2003 and urged Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to refer it to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for wider consultations to address the concerns raised by the opposition.

While the opposition MPs claimed that the bill seeks to take away certain rights of state governments, two chief ministers-- Bhagwant Mann(Punjab) and Arvind Kejriwal(Delhi), both from the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP)-- called the measure "dangerous" and felt it will increase people's suffering and benefit only few companies.

But the Centre said the bill is "pro-people" and "pro-farmer".

The bill is aimed at allowing privatisation of electricity on the lines of telecom where power consumers will have the option to choose the electricity supplier on the lines of opting any telephone, mobile and internet service.

The All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) claimed in a statement that lakhs of power sector employees and engineers across the country stopped work on Monday and held demonstrations in protest against the amendment bill.

The AIPEF alleged that the bill will end all subsidies to power consumers affecting commoners, especially farmers and the downtrodden.

Minister Singh 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," he said amid calls for wider consultations on the contentious measure.

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

Opposing the introduction of the bill, RSP MP 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 envisages allowing 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, which seeks to facilitate non-discriminatory open access to the distribution network of a distribution licensee, 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 Modi government to the Samyukta Kisan Morcha(SKM), which had laid a year-long siege at some of the border points in the national capital demanding roll back of agricultural reforms and shelving of proposed amendments to the Electricity Act. The three controversial farm laws have since been withdrawn.

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.

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 the Lok Sabha.

Chief Minister Kejriwal 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 bill will increase suffering of the people as it will make problems associated with power supply and distribution more serious instead of addressing it.

"This law is very dangerous," Kejriwal said in a tweet in Hindi.

"This will make the electricity problem more serious, instead of 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.

Chief Minister Mann said the introduction of the bill was an attack on the constitutional rights of the states.

He accused the Union government of "weakening" the foundations of the federal structure through "such nefarious designs".

Mann said it was another attempt of the central government to "undermine" the authority of the states. The Centre should not consider the states as puppets, he added.

The states will not sit silently against this attempt of the government of India to "dilute the federal spirit of our democracy," Mann said in a statement issued in Chandigarh.

The bill 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 envisages amending section 62 of the Act to make provisions vis--vis graded revision in tariff over a year besides mandatory fixing of maximum ceiling and minimum tariff by the appropriate commission.

The bill further provides for amending section 166 to strengthen functions that will be discharged by the regulators.

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