With the NDA government’s efforts to make India a power surplus and energy secured nation, electricity will never be a political subject, says power, coal, renewable energy and mines minister Piyush Goyal. The government has put in place an honest and transparent system that will be irreversible, he told ET’s Sarita C Singh in an interview on the sidelines of Vienna Energy Forum. Goyal said states are working towards removing land ownership as requirement for providing connections to give electricity access to slums. Edited excerpts:
Electricity access and lower tariff has always been a political agenda and part of electoral promises in India. With power surplus scenario, do you think this situation will change?
Energy is not a political issue for the Modi government. It is our commitment to provide electricity to every household of the country. If there are honest governments in states and the Centre, I don’t think power will now be an issue at all. Some of the things that we are doing are irreversible. For example, reverse auction of power has put an end to the regime of negotiated tariffs, feed-in tariffs, mutual consultation tariff, etc. We have created such an honest and transparent system that anyone will be afraid of trying to corrupt it again. Once we make electricity available to every household, would it be possible to keep people deprived of electricity?
What role will rationalisation and simplification of categories of tariff play in reducing corruption?
Corruption is the by-product of discretion, when there is scope for interpretation of policies. Some states have more than 100 categories and sub-categories of tariff and therefore one gets ample opportunities to interpret those provisions. I believe if we simplify the process of tariff fixing with lesser tariff slabs and rationalise the process, it will reduce corruption and simultaneously it will enable supply of adequate and cheap power to the poor as well as to farmers. We are also working on making merit order dispatch transparent. We want to make transparency one of the means to get rid of corruption. It has got game-changing quality. You would not need RTI because the government is going to tell you everything through a transparent mechanism.
The government’s target of power for all by 2019 is a challenge in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. How would you ensure every citizen gets a legal connection?
Earlier, the Union government used to give money to grant free electricity connections to poor and farmers but states like Uttar Pradesh were not doing it. Now, the Uttar Pradesh government is working towards providing electricity to all. Yogiji’s government has accepted my suggestions that the state government will give free electricity connection to urban as well as rural poor, and will ensure that power is available when demanded by simplifying the application process.
There shouldn’t be undue paper work and questioning for giving a new connection. Earlier, one had to prove ownership of the property for getting a connection but the current government in Uttar Pradesh is working on a system to de-link ownership with electricity connection whereby you will be given a connection where you are residing. If you have to leave the property for any illegality, the connection will be removed. Uttar Pradesh has decided to do it and other states are willing to do it.
There have been instances where people are not willing to take legal electricity connections. How are you tackling that?
It’s a problem we are facing that a number of people are not willing to apply. I have asked states to organise awareness camps that people need not worry about huge power bills any more. UPA has been a sad example as during its tenure people used to receive high power bills all of a sudden. In some cases, the poor will not receive bills for months and one day will receive a bill for last two years. Then he is harassed to pay up. We are talking to all states that they have to ensure monthly bills, so people don’t have to get a shocker of their lives. If there is a default, then action can be taken on a monthly due amount.
Isn’t this phenomenon of not applying for connection a problem for achieving the target of power for all?
Power for all includes people who are interested in getting a connection. It cannot be for people who don’t want the connection. Having said that, I am confident everybody will apply for power once they are sure that they will not be short-charged. It will be helped by my smart meters programme. Once smart meters come in at the desired scale, the consumer can control his power consumption and the possibility of inflated bill will reduce substantially.
What was the key agenda of India’s participation at the Vienna Energy Forum?
The Vienna Energy Forum dovetailed the poverty elimination programme with the energy access programme. In a way, they have taken up a more holistic view of the sustainable development goals. For India, overcoming the twin challenge of alleviating poverty and giving access to electricity to all is necessary.