So BESCOM wants us to pay 75 paise extra per unit of electricity consumed, as per its proposal. Some citizens are opposing this and registering their dissatisfaction, but the majority of us apparently can’t be bothered or don’t care, or are not even aware of the proposal – the last, however, is no excuse because the proposed hike has been in the news and the BESCOM authorities have also issued notices inviting reactions (and objections if any) from citizens.
Three months ago, the Consumer Care Society of Banashankari bemoaned the fact that the initial announcement inviting citizens’ comments, brought in exactly three objections. Three, out of around 60 lakh residents of the city?
I am asking myself – is it because namma ooru is prospering by leaps and bounds, and so most of us think we don’t have to worry about a piddling 75 paise hike? Bengaluru now boasts the second largest number of millionaires in the country (13,130, almost a fifth of the country’s total number of lakhpatis) so perhaps one should write off those 13,000-odd Bangaloreans from the list of those who would be expected to be agitated over a hike in electricity charges.
Then take away the 570 slums that account for a population of 36.31 lakhs (up from 29 lakhs at the last Census) and the numbers remaining still come to over 33 lakhs. And out of those 33 lakhs, 3 people send objections as concerned citizens. Even allowing for a few more objections sent in during the last few weeks, what percentage do we have, in terms of participatory involvement on our part?
Assuming that the average middle class urban household of four family members consumes between 70 and 100 units of electricity per month, that works out to a hike of Rs 50-75. Not a huge amount in these inflationary times, one must concede, but it is not the quantum of increase but the ramifications and spectrum of issues underlying it.
For at least a decade now, public utility undertakings have had court judgments decreeing that providers of essential services (water, electricity, telephones) have to first prove that there is no scope for increasing efficiency of operations before they can seek a hike in user fees. If there are transmission losses or theft from power lines, the undertaking has to address this before it asks legitimate users to shell out more. None of us has even raised this question to ask whether there are leaks that need to be plugged first.
Then there is the vexing reality of power cuts. And I don’t mean just the shutdowns necessitated by demand exceeding supply. We have had load shedding during scheduled timings, to cope with shortages, which – whatever the political or vested interest reasons – is acceptable and accepted. But what about the kind of shabbiness that I referred to in an earlier column that of electricity going off for a few minutes, without warning and then coming back?
I have monitored such breaks, and find that they range from 90 seconds to five minutes or just a little over. That clearly is not a part of "load shedding", whether scheduled or unscheduled. It just doesn’t make sense to have shut downs for a couple of minutes. If it was a breakdown, it ought to take more than a minute to restore the trip, and if it was a breakdown that occurs daily, without fail, three or four times (as it now does) we as users have a right to ask why breakdowns occur so frequently, and what BESCOM is doing about it.
The statutory truth is that we as consumers have a contractual deal – you lay the cables and provide the meters, and supply power at such-and-such rate, and we pay as per your deadlines or shell out penalties in the form of interest or disconnection. That contractual agreement gets tossed by the wayside if we have to keep paying (and agree to periodic hikes in addition) whether the supply is reasonably reliable or not.
The photocopying shop across the road loses business if the power supply is off. Cash registers at shops cannot be used if the power is off, and at places like Janata Bazaar the staff struggle to make out bills by hand because the machines don’t work. Household work gets stalled – a variety of chores, ranging from ironing the children’s school uniforms for the next day, to using the kitchen mixer to running the washing machine (not to mention using a bread maker – with rising incomes, a variety of fancy gadgets are coming into use in the city) get interrupted.
Children doing their homework or preparing for exams suffer. And not everyone can afford – or has – a UPS. So the rich manage without suffering inconvenience while the rest swallow their annoyance, curse, or put up with powerlessness with philosophical resignation.
I am using the word powerlessness with deliberate intent – it is not just having one’s electricity supply cut off at random, it is being at the mercy of a service provider that draws up arbitrary rules, changes them at will, and recognises in return no obligations. The meter charges remain constant, whether the power supply is reasonable or erratic. The authorities fix the unit charges without ensuring that leaks are plugged, and illegal connections and tapping penalised. With the result that the law-abiding citizen ends up having to pay increased rates while the culprits (whether it is inefficient employees or users drawing illegal power) go scot-free.
Are the majority of us agreeable to this? ⊕