Even as an optimistic BJP government in Haryana on Tuesday set in motion an endeavour involving voluntary public participation to improve recovery of electricity bills and bring down line losses, it is going to be a daunting task for the state government and its power distribution companies. Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar has offered a barter deal to consumers: pay your bills including arrears, install meters outside houses, replace old wires with insulated ones, bring down line losses and in return get better power supply. Easier said than done.
Successive governments have failed to persuade and even coerce the pampered and volatile farm sector, a major vote bank in Haryana, to pay their dues, fearing backlash and erosion of a committed vote bank. Coupled with it is the issue of power pilferage which according to experts account for a major chunk of the transmission and distribution (T&D) losses.
Get cheap power and don’t pay bills
The Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission (HERC) in its May order on power tariff had pointed out that poor collection efficiency of electricity bills from the subsidised agriculture sector and delay in payment of rural electrification (RE) subsidy by the state government has put other electricity consumers under burden.
While the regulator determined a tariff of Rs 7.34 per unit for the farm sector in its May 2015 order, the farm sector consumers actually gets to pay only 10 paisa per unit for metered connection and Rs 15 per brake horse power (bhp) per month for unmetered connections. The balance amount is paid to distribution companies as subsidy by the state government.
The regulator, in fact, recommended stringent measures, asking the distribution companies (discoms) to disconnect supply to defaulting agricultural pumpset (AP) consumers (farmers) the same way as was being for other defaulting consumers. The farm sector, which not only gets highly subsidised electricity but is also saved from tariff revision, has been guilty of non-payment of electricity bills. The rural electrification (RE) subsidy pegged at `5,624 crore when budget estimates were presented in March 2015 has shot up to Rs 6,196 crore as per the recent HERC tariff order.
In fact, governor Kaptan Singh Solanki in his address to the state assembly earlier this year had blamed meddling by politicians as one of the causes behind increasing aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses suffered by power distribution companies. Solanki had urged politicians of all hues to rise above narrow political considerations and motivate consumers to pay for their power consumption.
Recovery a tough task
The state government in fact stares at an onerous task of recovering over `4,000 crores of electricity dues from private consumers across Haryana. As per April 2015 figures, the politically sensitive Jind circle tops the list of defaulters having outstanding power bills of over Rs 900 crore followed by Bhiwani which has a default for Rs 600 crore. Jind district is known as a stronghold of Congressman turned BJP leader, Birender Singh, a Union minister now as well as Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
Bhiwani, the second highest in terms of defaulting amount is the home turf of Bansi Lal family now represented by his daughter in law and former Haryana minister, Kiran Choudhary. Former Haryana chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s Rohtak comes fourth in the list of defaulters having outstanding dues to the tune of about R 4oo crores.
No improvement in distribution losses
Distribution losses have not improved despite the two companies making huge capital investments every year on various loss reduction measures. The regulator while slamming the two companies said the position of distribution losses has not improved in spite of the fact that the two have been making huge capital investments every year on various loss reduction measures.
“In case of Uttar Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam (UHBVN), losses in a span of 12 years (from 2001- 02 to 2013-14) were almost at the same level and in case of Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam (DHBVN), these have reduced only by 6.95% in a 11 year span (from 2001-02 to 2012- 13). For 2013-14, the actual line losses have been reported as 23.66%, which were higher than the losses in the 2012-13 citing reason that Jind circle, which was earlier under the control of UHBVNL, was transferred to DHBVNL in the month of July, 2013. This situation reflects adversely on the working of the licensees,’’ the HERC said in its tariff order.