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Tariff trouble


The Power Corporation in Uttarakhand has proposed hiking the tariff for electricity in the state, and the Regulatory Commission is going through the process of examining the request. According to reports, the public’s case has been inadequately represented, as there are few organised consumer groups working actively to compile and analyse the facts in this regard. Individuals can at best raise difficulties that have been personally faced or are generally known. It is not clear, therefore, whether the entire picture has been brought before the UERC. Indeed, as has been seen in the past, while tariff increases have been introduced, other recommendations of the Commission have been largely ignored. So, the correctives and reforms suggested are not implemented and the very conditions responsible for the compulsions to increase tariffs remain and come back to haunt the consumer.
The health of the Power Corporations in most of India’s states has become a matter of serious concern. There is need for immediate reform and technical upgradation to ensure that inefficiency and poor management do not have to be subsidised by the exchequer or the consumer. Market forces cannot correct the shortcomings mainly because the power corporations are monopolies and the consumer does not have an alternative. The role of the regulatory authorities, thus, becomes all the more important. The government, too, needs to seriously consider the reforms recommended, because financial losses due to power corporations are taking the states single-handedly towards bankruptcy.
One of the major contradictions in the Uttarakhand Power Corporation’s approach has been of further burdening the paying customer, while allowing line losses to continue. It has significantly failed to bring these down through the tough measures suggested by the UERC, as well as its own advisors. A methodology has been recommended that would bring about phased accountability, and lead on to stemming the losses. However, there seems to be a strong lobby with a vested interest in the porous system of the present, which is why the harsh measures are not being taken. It is sad that this is not possible in a state like Uttarakhand, where the rule of law and moral authority of the government are greater than in most other states.
A double whammy being inflicted, instead, is the introduction of faulty electronic meters, which are churning out extraordinarily inflated bills for the paying customer. It would be reasonable to assume that ‘more efficient and accurate’ meters would lead to an increase of five to ten percent in readings over the older ones. Unfortunately, however, complaints are being received in the ‘thousands’ about faulty meters that are increasing bills by as much as a whopping three hundred percent. Checks by the corporation’s own engineers are validating this fact and the metering department of the corporation is overwhelmed with instructions to change the meters. The delay in changing the meter is often over two or more billing-cycles, and there is no clarity on how much of the inflated bill the customer would be landed with. This is because each customer is being dealt with on the basis of his or her status in society.
The tardiness in dealing with the situation might be explained by the fact that the inflated bills are coming as a windfall for the corporation. The consumers are being asked to pay at least half the bills as an interim measure, which amounts to one hundred and fifty percent of what the earlier bills used to be. While there is no guarantee that the replaced meters would function properly either, whatever settlement is ultimately made will have the customer out of pocket.
The only reason people are putting up with this is because it is the law abiding who are being made victims of this ‘scam’. They have no option left but to put their faith in the system; make representations at various levels with uncaring corporation authorities; or, take the matter to the political masters. Some more legally savvy ones may approach the UERC or the courts. Anyway, it is a big headache.
If one has such trouble with one’s telecom company, one merely migrates to another. The regulators have been making this easier over the years. This has resulted in better services for the consumers. About time the regulators and administrators of the power sector took innovative steps that would penalise failure and provide relief to the customers. The power corporations must focus on the real thieves and the technical shortcomings to bring about genuine improvement.