On Wednesday, May 24, a video of a local villager roughing up a Gulbarga Electricity Supply Company Limited (GESCOM) employee in Koppal district in Karnataka went viral on social media.

According to reports, the villager became enraged when the electrical department staff asked him to pay up his electricity bills. He allegedly slapped the GESCOM employee after he tried to cut the electricity supply for not paying the bill.

The villager who was identified as Chandrashekar Hiremat, a resident of Kukanapalli in Koppal, was arrested after the video of the incident went viral.

According to local media reports, the GESCOM employee Manjunath’s colleague recorded the attack on camera and filed a case against Chandrashekar Hiremat at Munirabad Police Station. The accused allegedly also tried to attack Manjunath’s college for recording a video.

Notably, this is not the first time such an incident has occurred in Karnataka. In fact, since Congress took power in the state, such incidents have become increasingly common in various parts of the state, with local villagers refusing to pay their electricity bills, citing Congress’ pre-election promise of providing 200 units of free electricity to every household if elected to power. Locals are demanding that promises made by the grand old party be honoured now that the party has taken administration in the state.

Last week, another video surfaced on the internet, wherein a group of villagers were seen allegedly refusing to pay their electricity bill citing Congress’ pre-poll ‘free- electricity’ promise. The video was said to be from Karnataka’s Jaalikatte area.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) IT cell head Amit Malviya shared a video of the incident on Twitter On May 15, 2023.

In the purported video, the locals seen sitting on a platform under a peepal tree, are heard arguing that they don’t need to pay their bills since Congress had offered them free electricity if it came to power.

“We won’t pay,” a villager is heard telling electricity bill collector Gopi.

“We will not pay. They (Congress) have said electricity is free, it will be free only,” another villager responds. To this, the bill collector says that the electricity can only be made free if the government orders the same.

Arguing with the official, the villagers asked him to talk to the Congress party about the bill.

“You collect from them (Congress), not us. We will not pay the bill,” says one villager and asks others sitting there not to pay either.

India Today on May 19, reported a similar incident from the Chitradurga area in Karnataka, where a woman refused to pay her electricity bills. She maintained that the people are entitled to the pre-poll promises from the minute they voted for Congress in the recent Assembly election.

“Let Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar pay our bills. They said they will implement the guarantee of 200 free units soon after the elections. So don’t come here. We won’t pay the bill. Once we pressed the button when voting, we were entitled to these guarantees,” the woman said, referring to Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar.

“We won’t pay the current bill. No matter what, we are promised 200 units of free power and we will have it. Even if the CM is not there yet,” said another person from Koppal.

The Congress, which has lost national relevance, was clearly desperate to reclaim Karnataka from the BJP, which is why it chose to follow in the footsteps of the Aam Aadmi Party and pledged 200 units of free energy to secure public loyalty and obedience prior to the election.

The Congress made this promise when it began its statewide ‘Prajadhwani Bus Yatre’ in Belagavi ahead of the assembly polls.

Making the announcement at a party’s convention here, KPCC president D K Shivakumar said, “This is our first commitment to the people of Karnataka to brighten every house with light. Therefore, he said they will be calling the scheme ‘Gruha Jyothi Yojane’.

Siddaramaiah, meanwhile, had added that 200 units of free power every month would not be limited only to Dalits, backwards-class people, and minorities, but to every household without any discrimination.

While offering the freebies, Congress most likely assumed that if it worked for the AAP in Delhi and Punjab, it would also work for them. The freebies promised by the party to the populace may have tilted the scales in its favour, but may soon turn into a disaster for the Karnataka Congress in more ways than one. Crisis, which the grand old party decided to ignore because it was clearly desperate to reclaim power in the state.

Congress in Karnataka might use 20% of state budget to provide the freebies it promised before elections

Recent projections suggested that the annual cost of the cash payouts and electricity subsidies that Congress chose to offer to the people of Karnataka would be Rs. 62,000 crores.

Here, it’s also important to know what percentage of the state’s budget the giveaways would make up. Nearly 20% of the state budget is represented by the estimated sum of Rs 62,000 crore. The amount that might be used for significant giveaways is equal to the budget deficit from the preceding fiscal year. The fiscal deficit for 2022–23 was projected in Karnataka’s budget for 2023–24 to be Rs. 60,581 crores or 2.60% of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP).

Even if Karnataka’s economy is predicted to expand in the next years, paying the substantial freebies, which total Rs 62,000 crore, will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the state budget. In order to deliver on the promises, the government will either have to increase the collection of taxes and duties or increase borrowings.

Karnataka will turn into an ill-health State: Retired Director of ISEC

In fact, MG Chandrakanth, Retired Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), had alerted the media about the impending disaster Congress may be heading towards by promising such freebies.

“Government can raise urban property taxes, stamp duty, registration fee, tax on liquor, VAT on petrol/diesel. But they may not attempt this due to political economy issues. Hence the borrowings will increase,” he said.

Calling Congress’ promises unsustainable, Chandrakanth explained that the existing fiscal deficit is roughly Rs 60,531 crore, and by adding Rs 65,082 crore, the overall fiscal deficit will go up to Rs 1,25,613 crore.

The previous BJP administration presented a revenue surplus budget of 402 crore. According to the most recent budget, Karnataka’s total liabilities currently stand at 5.6 lakh crore, with an additional 1.7 lakh crore expected to be borrowed.

“Karnataka which has up until now been an economically healthy State will turn into an ill-health State.  Increased borrowings will have a cascading effect on the present and the future government due to the piling up of public debt,” he told the media.

The state has a financial surplus, and income receipts are likely to rise, but whether this will be enough to sustain the provision of freebies for a long time remains to be seen.

While the Karnataka Congress should be seriously thinking of how to deal with the crisis that its government may encounter in the coming times, the resentment that is emerging in various parts of the state as a result of the promise of free power should also be a matter of concern for the grand old party.