Parliament on Thursday passed the Speedy Supply of Power and Energy (Special Provision) (Amendment) Bill 2021, extending the special law on purchasing electricity from "quick rental" power plants by another five years, despite facing protests from opposition lawmakers.
As soon as State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid presented the bill, some lawmakers called it an ill-motivated effort for handing over public money to certain businessmen.
On the issue, Jatiya Party lawmaker Mujibul Haque Chunnu said, "I see no logic behind passing this bill. We produce around 26,000MW of electricity, but utilise around 13,000MW. I do not think more electricity is necessary at this time.
"You [the government] have built infrastructure in rural areas, but the benefits of such a move are non-existent. Load shedding persists for five hours a day during summer. People in my area cannot sleep well because of load shedding."
He continued, "They have staged sit-in protests, demonstrations. I have so far kept them from further agitation. I also spoke with the Rural Electrification Board on multiple occasions, and they told me the lines are not good."
Addressing the state minister, he then said, "Please save us. Please take all the necessary steps so that we can get electricity 24 hours a day. Install new lines if needed and replace the old ones. We need transmission lines. We do not need this special law anymore."
Another Jatiya Party lawmaker Shamim Haider said, "How can a special law be in effect for 16 years? It is supposed to be a temporary, emergency measure. The government itself said Bangladesh now has 100% electricity coverage.
"But we have to suffer verbal abuse at the grassroots level, because load shedding still happens in our area."
He continued, "You [the government] have ensured 100% electricity coverage, but did not increase the manpower. You are providing the service with a small number of staff. In my area, one line covers 60-70 kilometres.
"Even a single disruption causes the electricity supply to go down in the whole area."
BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid said, "This law was formulated in 2010 to tackle electricity deficit. Why is it being extended for five more years? Bangladesh is currently producing 13,000MW in excess electricity. What will we do with this?
"We are using this law to validate irregularities and corruption."
He continued, "You [the government] had formulated this special law to tackle a temporary issue of the state. Why would it continue for 16 years? Why has it been extended for five more years? A special law cannot be in effect for this long.
"We have big projects in Rooppur and Matarbari. These are large investments, and the burden of our debt is increasing. Construction of the coal power plan is almost complete. Many countries are shutting down such plants."
Rashid further said, "But now you [the government] are changing the fuel [for such plants]. A large sum of money is being spent for this purpose. You have fallen into the trap of unplanned mega projects, and the country will go bankrupt as a result."
Another BNP lawmaker Rumeen Farhana said, "This law provides immunity to a certain quarter of people. The people's money is being handed over to a few people, but questions cannot be posed about it.
"Oil-fired or quick rental power plants are the most expensive options throughout the world. Such plants are only used during times of emergency. However, Bangladesh continued to allow construction of quick rental plants one after another, and extended the special law."
She continued, "Initially they [the government] said the law will not be extended after 2012. But today [Thursday] it got another five years of extension. So, we will be running quick rentals for 16 years.
"These oil-fired quick rental power plants have become so efficient in making money that more and more are being built without any demand. Price of per unit of electricity generated by a coal-fired plant is Tk7, while it is Tk20 for a quick rental – which is nearly triple the cost."
Rumeen claimed that the government's plan is to run the quick rentals so that crores of public money can be handed over to some businessmen.
"The price of electricity has increased ten-fold in the last 11 years, caused by the hike in electricity production costs. The people are bearing the full brunt of this price hike," she added.
Lawmaker Pir Fazlur Rahman said, "Our production [of electricity] is higher than demand. So why should we pass a law to continue using an expensive [production] process such as the quick rentals. This is costing the public money."
Sylhet-2 lawmaker Mukabbir Khan termed the law as an ill-motivated effort for handing over public money to certain businessmen in the country.
Meanwhile, Bogura-7 lawmaker Md Rezaul Karim Bablu expressed his grievances over ghost bills, and demanded that everyone involved with the issue be brought to book.
In response to the protests, State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid said, "This is not a new bill. We are just extending its duration. The law will help us provide uninterrupted electricity supply.
"We have already achieved 100% electrification, now we want to ensure a dependable supply. It takes time to build transmission lines. This law is not for quick rentals, instead it will help boost speedy transmission of electricity."