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Power consumers hit a snag

Only a few months ago, Tamil Nadu had increased the tariff for a host of electricity consumers. Now, domestic consumers along with consumers from a few other categories have been asked to link their Aadhaar details with their service connection numbers. On the face of it, the process should not have caused any problem, given that the State, over five years ago, had instructed people to link their ration card details with their Aadhaar numbers. But the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO)’s latest move has generated much heat.

It all began in mid-November when sections of consumers, who had to pay their bi-monthly bills, complained that they could make their payment only once they furnished their Aadhaar details. This came as a surprise as TANGEDCO has made no specific announcement about linking service connection numbers with Aadhaar numbers, though on October 6, the State Energy Department had issued an order saying that those who want to avail themselves of the subsidy should link their Aadhaar numbers with the electricity service connection numbers. For the time being, the drive covers nearly 2.3 crore domestic connections, 22.85 lakh farm connections, 10.6 lakh huts and 1.6 lakh power looms, even though the order includes places of public worship (1.52 lakh) and handlooms (74,500) too.

When consumers began complaining that there were hitches in completing the process, the authorities responded by extending the last date for payment by two days. When the problems persisted, Electricity Minister V. Senthil Balaji announced on November 26 that the payment of power bills could be done even without linking service connection numbers with Aadhaar. He said special camps to link Aadhaar with service connection numbers would be held from November 28 to December 31 and consumers could pay their bills without any hassle until then.

Conscious of complaints regarding the initial process of Aadhaar linking that involved the uploading of images of the Aadhaar cards, the power utility has done away with the requirement. Instead, it wants consumers to provide their service connection numbers and Aadhaar-linked mobile numbers. The authorities preferred to make a low-key announcement about the change through a tweet of the TANGEDCO’s chief, Rajesh Lakhoni, that an online portal in cloud had been deployed for the purpose. Still, there are reports of consumers encountering difficulties. As on December 2, the Aadhaar numbers of nearly 47.2 lakh connections were furnished.

While leaders such as the AIADMK’s deposed coordinator, O. Panneerselvam, and the BJP’s State president, K. Annamalai, have said that consumers should be given more time, CPI(M) leader K. Balakrishnan questioned the need to link Aadhaar with service connection numbers. He said the decision has “created a lot of fear among the general public and especially among the people living on rent.” Mr. Panneerselvam recalled how M.K. Stalin, as the Leader of the Opposition, had opposed the announcement that subsidy for cooking gas cylinders would be stopped for those who did not give Aadhaar card details.

The Electricity Minister cited the Central government’s stipulation as the reason for the move. He also said the move would help determine the precise number of domestic consumers and other categories of consumers. The Energy Department’s order has invoked the relevant section of the law on Aadhaar which deals with proof of the Aadhaar number as being necessary for receipt of certain subsidies, benefits and services.

As the process triggered talks that the government would eventually rollback the present concession of 100 units free to domestic consumers, Mr. Senthil Balaji was forced to reiterate that there would not be any withdrawal of concession, regardless of the number of connections a consumer possessed.

What cannot be overlooked is that huts and farms too have been enjoying free power supply, longer than those in the domestic category. While consumers feel that the process of updating the database should have been an ongoing and continuous exercise without any deadline, officials say that unless there is “pressure,” consumers may not take the issue seriously. If there is a helpline, it may assuage some of these concerns.

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