The problem of power thefts troubles Raj Kumar Singh as much as it does Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.
Singh is the president of the Durga Energy Generation Cooperative Society in Jaraha-Chetwa village of Sonebhadra district, in the south-eastern corner of Uttar Pradesh. The cooperative runs a solar power based plant in the village, put up with funding from the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Ltd, which was intended to supply electricity to 240 houses in the area. The solar power based plant still remains the only source of electricity in that remote region.
So far the cooperative had provided power to 125 houses in the region, but it is hard pressed to stretch its transmission lines any further. Indeed its survival is at stake. The reason: power theft and non payment of the nominal Rs 40 it charges each house it supplies power to. Like all the power distribution companies in the country, it too faces considerable aggregate technical and commercial (ATC) losses.
Instead of an expected revenue of Rs 5000 per month, the cooperative earns only Rs 3000 per month. Many families do not pay on one pretext or another. The cooperative is reluctant to disconnect the supply to any of them, but it may soon have no option.
“It is early days yet, things may improve," said Jagmohan, in charge of bill collection at the cooperative. "But people steal electricity by hooking wires to the transmission lines. That is something we cannot do anything about.”
NTPC so far has refused to intervene. But senior officials made it clear they intended to continue funding the cooperative, even if the losses continue. "We do not have any mandate to interfere with distribution. It was with great difficulty that we got the clearance to do even this much. How the cooperative's carries itself forward, is its own business," said one of them.
In a microcosm this illustrates the countrywide problem of power thefts. No one is serious about stopping them. A senior power ministry official said, “Who will be the beneficiaries if we do? The distribution companies both private and state owned. The government will be spending money on something the distribution companies ought to do as part of their licence agreement.”