Keeping their fingers crossed, millions of worried power subscribers across the country have been watching with intense interest the ongoing flurry of activities at the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) following the proposals of a number of power distribution companies for raising power tariff. The decision of the Commission's technical evaluation committee to turn down a power rate-hike proposal coming from the Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB) late last week for reasons of anomalies in its financial statement raised some hopes among power subscribers to the effect that the same results might happen in the case of proposals submitted by other distribution companies.
But their hope was dashed. On the first working day of the current week, the technical evaluation committee, responding to proposals from the Power Development Board (PDB) and the Western Zone Power Distribution Company (WZPDC), recommended 4.8 per cent and 4.15 per cent hike in retail power tariff respectively. Next day (Monday), the committee suggested a 3.63 per cent and 3.3 per cent hike at a public hearing on proposals received from the Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC) and the Dhaka Electric Supply Company (DESCO) respectively. The recommended hikes, however, are well below what the companies concerned wanted from the BERC.
Yet the power subscribers are in no mood to accept any more increase in power rate because its tariff has gone up seven times since the assumption of power by this government in January 2009 - the last one of which being effected at 15 per cent in September last. Such hikes have hit them hard, financially. In most cases, the monthly power bill at the individual household level has gone up three times over the past one year. Barring the price of only one food item, rice, all food or non-food item have become pricier. Even during the current winter season, in contrast to past experiences, fish and vegetables are now costlier than any other season. House rent and costs of transportation, clothing and fuel etc., have been on the rise constantly over the past few years. The consumers are finding the fat power bill as a big burden on them.
The immediate past BERC chairman, while announcing the power rate hike in September last, had promised not to hike power rates within the next one year unless the oil price increased significantly in the international market. But moves are now on to effect yet another hike in power tariff despite international oil prices showing no signs of volatility yet. Furthermore, there is one more reason for the users of electricity to be worried about. At least a couple of top government functionaries had given a broad hint at hiking fuel oil prices soon, apparently, to meet one of the conditions attached to the disbursement of the second tranche of the International Monetary Fund's $1.0 billion under the extended credit facility (ECF).
The latest recommendations made by the BERC technical evaluation committee were on the proposals submitted by the power distribution companies a couple of months back. Any fresh hike in fuel oil prices might necessitate yet another hike in power rates because of increased dependence on liquid fuel-guzzling rental power plants. Thus, the people are unlikely to get any respite from intermittent power-tariff hike as long as the diesel and furnace oil-based rental power plants, notwithstanding the valuable service they rendered during the last couple of years, remain in operation. One very important issue, whether the government of the day has made any tangible progress in phasing out the cost-intensive rental power plants within the shortest possible time, deserves scrutiny of all concerned, including the power subscribers.