ELECTRICITY AS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT

Imagine the frustration you feel when there’s a sudden power cut, and that too on a hot summer afternoon. Yes, you are already feeling hot & you just wiped the sweat from your face. And, what if, you have to pay a hefty amount for the electricity you never used because of these frequent power cuts? Feeling angry, huh? In a landmark ruling, the Madras high court has said electricity supply is a legal right and denial of power supply is a violation of human rights. Justice S Manikumar, directing the Tiruvannamalai district administration and the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) to give electricity supply to more than 180 families of launderers living along Girivalam (circumambulation) path in Tiruvannamalai[1].

It is a well known fact that electricity has a bearing on education ( in these pandemic, educational institutions are conducting classes online, for that the electronic device must be charged), health & family. The launderers had filed a petition stating that electricity supply had been denied to them because they had been living on poromboke land (government land without clear titles) along the holy Girivalam path for several decades. According to Justice Manikumar, lack of electricity denies people equal opportunities in the matter of education and consequently suitable employment, health, sanitation and other socio-economic rights. The social duties of the authorities were underlined by the judge and stated that it was the fundamental duty of the authorities to show compassion to those who were living in huts and tenements for a long period.

In 2018, the High Court of Himachal Pradesh in Madan Lal v. State of Himachal Pradesh & ors., reiterated that right to water and electricity supply come under the ambit of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, as these are an integral part of right to life. In an announcement by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi that every single village was fully electrified, but, the harsh truth was that only 10 per cent was electrified.

In a significant ruling, the Bombay High Court held that there was no fundamental right to “free” electricity for business or commercial purposes. The bench of Justices Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari and Gautam Patel delivered the significant judgment while dismissing the petition of Goradia Special Steels Ltd. The manufacturer of steel ingot, Goradia had been a “heavy” electricity consumer but it had failed to pay electricity bills since 2008. The manufacturing firm had relied on a government policy of 2006, which provided for a complete interest waiver and a one-time settlement of the defaulted amount, but, that scheme ceased to operate from March 2009. The firm, however, defaulted in making the payments and instead moved the court. The court noted that despite not paying off the dues, the firm continued to draw electricity in vast volumes, racking up bills of Rs 1 crore monthly, which too were delayed[2]. Justice Dharmadhikari said “It is a wholly unacceptable imposition on a government-provided service for private self-serving benefit. We fail to see how any entity can be entitled to carry on business at a public cost by not paying for a service that it continues to draw month on month. There is no fundamental right to free electricity for business or commercial purposes,”[3].

It is high time that we as Indian citizens consider Right to Electricity as a Fundamental Right. The link between poverty and lack of access to electricity is being seen as intolerable in recent times. Lack of access to electricity hampers all aspects of human fundamentals, from literacy to healthcare to economic deprivation.


[1] A Subramani-Electricity supply is a legal right, Madras high court says,http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/23841025.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst, visited on 11-08-2021 at 11:34hrs.

[2] Narsi Benwal-Free electricity for business is not fundamental right: Bombay High Court, Free electricity for business is not fundamental right: Bombay High Court (freepressjournal.in), visited on 11-08-2021 at 12:42hrs.

[3] Ibid.

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