Objecting to the union government’s move to place the “anti-people” Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in Parliament, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to refrain from proceeding with the legislation. She requested the prime minister “to ensure that a broad-based and transparent dialogue on the subject is opened up at the earliest”.
“I write this letter to re-lodge my protest against the Union Government’s fresh move to place the much-criticised Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020, in Parliament. It was proposed to be moved last year, but many of us had underlined the anti-people aspects of the draft legislation, and at least I had detailed out all the salient pitfalls of the Bill in a letter to you on June 12, 2020,” she wrote.
Mamata Banerjee pointed in her letter that the bill, which was proposed to be moved last year, was not passed because of objections by the Trinamool Congress. She also reminded PM Modi about her letter of last year, where she had mentioned “all the salient pitfalls” of the bill.
Banerjee had written to Modi on 12 June last year, expressing outrage over the draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020, which, she, said, was an attempt by the union government to “destroy” the country’s federal structure.
The West Bengal chief minister claimed that the bill aimed to make the entire state electricity grid an appendage of the National Grid.
“I am stunned to hear that the Bill is coming back without any consideration for our reservations, and in fact with some graver anti-people features this time,” she added.
What is Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020?
The Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020 seeks to propose amendments to the Electricity Act 2003. Further, it sets rules and provisions for regulatory authorities in the state and central departments of the power sector.
Instead of the current system of a separate selection panel for the appointment of state electricity regulatory commissions (SERC), the 2020 amendment bill proposes a national selection committee.
The bill seeks to establish an Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority to evaluate the performance of contracts in the sale, purchase and transmission of power. It has also proposed Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), which is a scheme launched in 2013 with an aim to transfer subsidies directly to the account of beneficiaries.
In a bid to ease the financial health of DISCOMs, which are mostly owned by states, the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020 has advocated for tariff and subsidy-related measures. The bill has also called for a renewable energy approach in the power sector.
Terming the provisions of the draft bill as “anti-people”, Mamata Banerjee wrote, “I am stunned to hear that the Bill is coming back without any consideration for our reservations, and in fact with some graver anti-people features this time”.
The West Bengal chief minister said, “Power is too important a sector for such unilateral interferences, especially when ‘electricity’ as a subject is in the Concurrent List of the serious prior consultation with the States.”
She argued in her letter that such an approach will result in the concentration of private profit-focused utility players in the lucrative urban industrial segments, while poor and rural consumers will be left to public sector discoms.
“The dilution of the role of State Electricity Regulatory Commission and the State Distribution Companies implies a political design to demolish state bodies and domestic industries,” she alleged.
Calling to keep the reins of the power sector in the state government’s hand, Mamata Banerjee said, “To summarily recapitulate my argument as I had conveyed in my earlier letter last year, I reason against the sweeping abdication of the State’s pre-eminent role in the power sector in favour of unregulated and delicensed private players.”