Rise in power tariff proposed: People cannot afford added expense

The government has introduced a unique policy so that people cannot raise objections. It first raises the bulk price of gas and electricity, then proposed hike in the consumer level. No exception was witnessed this time either.

Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) held a public hearing on the proposal to increase electricity prices at the consumer level Sunday. Cost per unit (kWh) of electricity consumption may increase by 1.1 taka. In the first session, six distribution companies and one transmission company presented price hike proposals. They said, as the bulk price was increased in December, they would incur losses if the price of electricity is not increased at the retail level. On the other hand, economists and industrialists opposed the price hike and underscored on stopping illegal connections, wastage and collecting commissions in the power sector. An energy expert also questioned the accuracy of the calculations given by the companies.

BERC's technical committee said that among the distribution companies, Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC), Dhaka Electric Supply Company (DESCO), PDB, West Zone Power Distribution Company (OZOPODICO) and Northern Electric Supply Company (NESCO) are fixing electricity prices with a margin of profit. But the Rural Electrification Board (REB) does not seek any profit.

Electricity prices have increased 10 times at the bulk and retail levels in the past 14 years. Now retail prices may increase for the 11th time this month. Feedback of the hearing should be received until 15 January. There is an obligation to declare electricity prices within 60 working days after the hearing. However, BERC is preparing to announce the order this month.

While the country's economy, especially the export sector, has started to turn around despite the instability in the global economy due to the Ukraine-Russia war, experts believe that the surge in electricity prices will have an adverse effect on the economy. Economist Selim Raihan said, "It is not right to increase the price now. We have been in hyperinflation for a long time. Inflation has been slowing down a bit recently. Hiking power price will increase the inflation again.”

On the other hand, industrialist Sheikh Masadul Alam believes that production is being disrupted due to the electricity crisis. In this situation, if the price of electricity increases, the industrial sector will suffer further. He demanded an end to the wastage and commission-seeking on in this sector rather than increasing the price of electricity at the consumer level. Energy-expert M Shamsul Alam asked 53 written questions on behalf of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), but the concerned officials did not respond.

BERC has taken the initiative to raise electricity prices at the consumer level at a time when the price of fuel oil in the international market has fallen below 80 dollars per barrel. If the price in the international market falls, it will have a positive effect on the domestic market as well. Therefore, the amount of losses claimed by the government will also come down.

In that case, it would be unreasonable to increase the price of electricity at the consumer level on the grounds that the commission is about to expire. Rather, the government should take strict measures to stop illegal connection and wastage in the electricity sector. It will be wrong on the government’s part to do anything that puts the economy at risk and the people who already have been victims of inflation suffer further.