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Electricity price hike enhances people’s suffering

Electricity price

Kaushik Ahmed

MNA Feature Desk: Electricity price is going up once again. Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) has increased the price of retail electricity BDT 0.35 per unit on November 23, 2017, which is 5.3 per cent increase on a weighted average — and the eighth hike since 2010.

During 2010-2017, the retail subscribers have experienced an overall increase of 69.23 per cent in electricity price, which exceeds our accumulated GDP growth for this period. At wholesale level, also the consolidated electricity price hike for the same period was 84.89 per cent though the wholesale price was not increased at this time.

Though it was said that this price hike was due to increase profit or minimize the loss of the respective sector or the associated organization, incessant increase of electricity price was no doubt a bizarre move by the BERC not consistent with people’s welfare. However, it is ironical that the Prime Minister’s Energy Adviser Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury defended the raise in power rate, saying that it will have little or no impact on people’s life and living.

The Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (REB), West-Zone Power Distribution Company Ltd. (WZPDCL), Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC), North West Zone Power Distribution Company Ltd and Dhaka Electric Supply Company (DESCO) — all the electricity distribution institutions have sought hikes in the retail tariff of the electricity. Few have demanded increase in demand and service charges also though that did not happen. But the retail consumers who are basically domestic users were hit hard with yet another power price hike.

A seven-day public hearing was held on the electricity price hike between September 25 and October 4, 2017, when the participants clearly spoke against such raise. But that did not affect the decision of the government, who has gone for their eighth power price increase in seven years. This cannot happen anywhere in the world. No country will keep constantly creating burden on their citizens as it has been done for us in Bangladesh. The pre-hearings all proved a mock show to implement the pre-decided rates. The voices were unheard, the concerns were ignored and we have to pay more with no increase in income.

Still one-third of Bangladesh’s population lives without electricity. Though the government has successfully increased the electricity production and has huge projects ahead like: Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant with 2.4GW generation capacity and the controversial Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans, there are concerns about higher production cost and huge system loss.

One of the reasons for higher production cost of electricity is the higher price of furnace oil. While the price of furnace oil in the international market is around Tk 22 — Tk 24 per litre, Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) sells it at Tk 42 per litre to the power plants as it was fixed by the government and that is significantly driving the power price higher.

In spite of oil price fall in the global market, we have already experienced rise in fuel prices leading to higher prices of electricity. The Power Development Board (PDB) sources also recognized the fact that, the price of gas used for power generation has increased but the rise is not logical considering the global market trends.

Another major cause of increasing production and distribution cost of electricity lies on the endemic system loss. The inefficient distribution system mired in corruption is a major barrier to efficient and effective power delivery to the consumers. An authentic report in 2014 stated that, the total transmission and distribution losses of electricity in Bangladesh was estimated to be one-third of the total generation and in terms of value, it was around USD 247 million per year.

The scenario has not improved since then as corruption and inefficiency of associated people is moving towards the peak. Unfortunately, the authorities, trying to shore up the badly performing sector, have made the ordinary people pay more to make up the losses. They also pay for negligence and dishonesty of others.

Besides, delay in completion of new plants also is a major constraint in supply of electricity in the country. Low plant efficiency, erratic power supply, electricity theft, blackouts and shortages of funds for power plant maintenance are also hurting the availability of electricity in both urban and rural areas.

After government’s recent decision to increase the electricity price, several statements have been issued in protest by opposition parties, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Besides uttering some angry words, they failed to do anything whatsoever to force the government to revise the power price down or relieve the people’s sufferings.

The leftist party CPB called for a strike over the electricity price hike but it virtually went unheeded or they failed it carry out though the outraged public. In the absence of strong opposition, the ruling party and government can impose anything they like to add to people’s burden while trying to cover up others’ misdeeds.

The Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) also made some noise over the issue but they went quiet like others before they could get people’s attention. Critics say Bangladeshi people, like rhinoceros, have developed very thick skin and virtually nothing bothers them even through it comes to almost a life and death question.

All utility prices have gone up in recent years without any justification. While fuel, gas and electricity prices have declined in the global market, the graph just went upwards for us. A system of public hearing has been established before taking the decision of utility price hike but that is the biggest mockery or comedy of today’s Bangladesh.

Price of everything is going up but our income is not. In spite of so many developments in several areas, Bangladeshi citizen’s purchasing power is going down every day. This might not be supported by the official statistics but we can easily realize that looking into our pockets. Hence we request our Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is also the people’s leader and has been historic in terms of so many accomplishment which really make us feel proud, to take citizen’s financial circumstance into consideration.

This illogical and continuous price hike in utilities and services could have been very unlikely in any other developed or developing countries. Even in our neighbouring country India, there was huge protest against the slightest utility price and transport cost hike, which even led towards the resignation of the concerned minister. But we keep silence and seems like we are being oppressed.

Most importantly, we are suffering this much because of corruption and misuse of power at all ends. We, as the people of Bangladesh, are paying for the dishonesty and inefficiency of the authority. Electricity price hike for eighth times in the last seven years will further increase the cost of everything though some of them might not be related but that will. Now is the time to focus on eliminating superfluous costs in the production process of electricity and we, as people, deny paying for any malpractice.

The writer is the Associate Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA).

 

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