Who owes whopping power arrears: Himachal, Punjab or Haryana?

Shimla, Sep 19 (IANS) A 45-year-old war over electricity arrears is escalating among cash-strapped Himachal Pradesh and Punjab and cash-rich Haryana.

While Himachal's Congress-led government is claiming a whopping Rs.4,250 crore in arrears due on Punjab and Haryana for the Bhakra Beas Management Board's three hydro projects located in the hill state, a counter claim of Rs.1,611.88 crore has come from the two states.

In the process, Himachal's opposition BJP has rushed in to launch a scathing attack on the ruling Congress for compromising with the interests of the state.

Taking a dig at the Virbhadra Singh-led government, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said the government has failed to take concrete steps to recover the Rs.4,250 crore arrears due from Haryana, where its own party is in power, and Punjab.

"The state government has not reacted to claims by Haryana that we owe it Rs.688 crore for power projects, which is surprising and unfortunate," he said in a statement earlier this week.

Official sources told IANS that Dhumal's reaction came after Punjab and Haryana informed the Supreme Court Sep 13 that they don't owe Rs.1,497.39 crore to Himachal as calculated by the centre on its directive for short supply of electricity from the projects since 1966.

Rather, it's Himachal which owes them Rs.1,611 crore, representing its share in the construction cost of these projects, funds for which were raised by them through loans on interest, they said.

During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General Mohan Jain submitted before a bench consisting of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice J.S. Khehar that both the states are objecting to the centre's calculations, arguing that it is Himachal which has to pay them.

"Today's world does not go by rationality. Everybody is protecting his own interests," the bench observed.

The centre had calculated the compensation of Rs.1,497 crore on the apex court's judgment of Sep 27, 2011, in Himachal's original suit filed in 1996 seeking a higher share of electricity from these power projects.

But Himachal has claimed compensation of Rs.4,249 crore for the short supply of electricity since the commissioning of the projects.

The Supreme Court had raised Himachal's share to 7.19 percent of the power generated by the projects - Bhakra, Beas (Dehar) and Beas (Pong) - against 2.5 per cent it was earlier getting.

Since Himachal's share had gone up, it should bear the liability towards the capital costs of the projects to that extent, Punjab's affidavit said.

However, Haryana has made it clear that its own calculations "show that nothing is payable to Himachal. Rather it's required to pay Rs.688.45 crore to us."

The court will next hear the case in the first week of November.

Reacting to Dhumal's assertions, the state government has clarified that it's making every effort to settle its claims against Punjab and Haryana as per its share from the BBMB projects.

Virbhadra Singh said earlier this week that the state would strongly take up the issues relating to its legitimate rights.

"Various issues, including due share in the Bhakra and Pong dam projects, have been pending since long and it's unfortunate that despite the Supreme Court order the state has not got its due share," he said, adding: "We would strongly object and protest at all levels so that the state is not deprived of its rights."

The Supreme Court in its judgment has clearly mentioned that Punjab and Haryana had utilized power in excess of what was due to them under law and unlawful use of energy had to be compensated, a government spokesperson said.

He said the court has in fact enhanced Himachal's share of free power from the hydro projects.

He said the state had submitted its revised arrears of Rs.4,249.45 crore to the union power ministry July 7 last year.

Hitting back at his arch rival, Dhumal said the chief minister and his entire cabinet presented its case before the prime minister (Sep 9) but till date the state has not got a single penny as financial assistance.

"Their Delhi trips are a mere formality, limited to presenting bouquets and getting photographs taken," he added.

Hydropower generation as well as horticulture and tourism are major contributors to the economic development of Himachal Pradesh.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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