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subsidy: display: ring-fence reform to protect against giveaway culture

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks in a recent speech at an event in Bundelkand echoed across borders. When it comes to the political culture of giving away freebies, Modi’s reference to “free revdi” seems to have rubbed his political opponents in the wrong direction while placing the culture of rights that underlies freebie politics in the mainstream debate. .

India has not had an honest discussion of this culture of rights and the many political statements in government plans and policies. A striking example of this lack of integrity is Delhi. Governed by the Aam Admi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi has been offering free electricity for bills below a certain amount for nearly two years. Besides being home to the political and bureaucratic elite, Delhi is home to a wide range of media activists, non-governmental organizations and is a center of activity of all kinds, including shades of green. Despite the fact that it is a land and despite endless lectures about pollution and climate change to residents every November and December, it is hard to believe that there is not even a single voice in Delhi against this free electricity scheme. Amazing.

This lack of integrity has fueled the irresponsible politics of exporting free electricity to other states. So it’s no wonder Kejriwal, during a recent visit to Gujarat, promised to bring the free electricity policy into the state ahead of state legislative elections scheduled later this year.

Was Kejriwal ignorant of Gujarat’s history of subsidized electricity and subsequent reforms, or was he trying to turn the clock on electricity reforms back to Gujarat?

Before Modi became prime minister in 2001, Gujarat was a victim of the worst kind of giveaway politics over its electricity supply. Flawed policies of the 1980s led to rampant abuse of subsidized power across the state, doing little to ensure a steady supply of electricity, depleting groundwater and contributing significantly to environmental damage. . Worse was the financial damage from non-payment of electricity bills.

It was behind this dire situation that Modi introduced one of the most audacious and progressive reforms in the electricity sector through the Jyotigram scheme. Jyotigram’s success story is detailed in the recently released book Modi@20 – Dreams meet Delivery.

Renowned economist Ashok Gulati explains in a Jyotigram article how power sector reforms have contributed to improved water tables, stable power supply and sustainable finances in the power sector.

It was therefore frustrating to see this attempt to turn back the clock on Gujarat’s power sector reform with an irresponsible promise of free electricity.

It is strange that the most vocal environmental activists remain completely silent about irresponsible policies of subsidies and giveaways that are likely to harm both the environment and finances.

Raising the issue of electricity reform, the Prime Minister recently highlighted huge unpaid charges to distribution companies from the Central Power Company and various state governments. No wonder pending states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana in particular have seen unsustainable subsidy policies. Punjab and Rajasthan also had the highest balance of subsidies Discom could receive, reaching tens of thousands of rupees.

The politics of “free revdi” is also lazy politics. Because instead of doing the hard work of accumulating political capital to pursue impracticable reforms, it takes the political shortcut of entitlement.

Giving a free pass to giveaway politics like this is not just intellectually dishonest, it’s also shortsighted. Because the irresponsible plans emanating from the politics of “free revdi” will always have a permanent cost to the environment.

I hope the Gujarat government will categorically reject attempts to turn back the clock on reform by trying to introduce flawed and irresponsible plans that are also having a negative impact on climate change.

Contributed by former CEO Prasar Bharati.