Hands Off My Discom!
Power Watch India|December 2016

Most people who take an interest in the electricity sector are aware that the discom train has clearly jumped off the rails in a large number of Indian states.

Mohua Mukherjee

Total discom losses amount to nearly 3% of the country’s GDP, despite a series of expensive bailouts in recent years and another one (UDAY) that is currently underway. Why is this so? Who is in charge of the state power sectors, and what (or who?) is holding them back from implementing 20 years’ worth of identical recommendations in consultants’ reports? Over the years, numerous and varied consultants have repeatedly identified very similar, simple and common-sense preliminary actions to reduce losses and embark on a financial recovery strategy, for the majority of discoms. That list includes the following: Create a computerised customer database; implement full metering across the network (at the distribution transformer, at the feeder and at the customer premises); introduce automated meter reading for large consumers, based on the 80-20 principle where 80% of revenues come from 20% of the customers; update billing practices and reduce inconsistencies for small customers to minimise disputes; improve collection practices with relentless focus on customer service and maximise payment convenience; track consumption patterns; carry out GIS based consumer indexing and GIS based electrical network mapping, including early identification of overloading in various key infrastructure elements like distribution transformers and undertake load flow studies for planning the growth and expansion of the network. If discom engineers were permitted to routinely undertake these measures on behalf of the discom’s shareholders and customers, then it is safe to speculate that discoms would be in a far better financial condition than they are today. Monitoring year-on-year performance would become possible and hard-to-ignore red flags would start to appear. So why were these transparency-enhancing actions not taken? And who was responsible for the fact that they were not fully implemented, despite starting with much fan-fare?

Insiders with first-hand information on these matters, who have been at the centre of decision-making circles, point to the long shadow of the state’s political top brass. This shadow reaches right into the offices of the discom boss and the regulator and causes some sort of apparent paralysis. Knowledgeable folks say that for at least four decades, leading state politicians have habitually used the state-owned discom as a “cash cow in the shape of a black box”. Political interference is baked into a discom’s daily routine, and any discom boss apparently needs to keep his political masters happy. Reliable sources have informed that for the state’s top politicians, using the discom as a political patronage ‘ATM’ involves doling out closed-door political favours in the form of electricity freebies to their high (electricity) consuming ‘friends, relatives and cronies’ (FR&Cs). Some of the FR&Cs will of course already be conveniently classified as ‘agricultural consumers’. This means that their vast landholdings and thirsty-crop plantations are already entitled to zero-cost power for irrigation pumps (in many cases the state policy helpfully remains silent on maximum allowable farm size or annual income limits for eligibility to receive free power). Other FR&Cs may be industrialists who are quietly assured of receiving no troublesome electricity bills from the discom, in return for certain quid pro quos. Their electricity accounts are assigned to cooperative discom engineers who survive and thrive because they can read the unwritten rules on the wall. They know that they must implement the will of the top brass of the state, and keep the FR&Cs happy. But if you are going to milk the discom dry, you first need a bucket to carry away the milk—you need to have some container that serves as a good black box.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM POWER WATCH INDIAView All

Time Is Ripe for Adoption of Innovative Technologies

Amit Vaidya, Director, Strategic Customer Team, India, Sensus speaks about the potential of the UDAY scheme and the need for deployment of automation and smart technologies in the distribution infrastructure, in an interview with Monica Chaturvedi Charna...

4 mins read
Power Watch India
December 2016

Conext Inverter Will Reduce the Levelised Cost of Energy

Anurag Garg, Vice President – Solar Business, Schneider Electric, speaks about the company’s latest launch, an inverter that will help cut down the operational cost of solar power plants, in an interview with Monica Chaturvedi Charna...

3 mins read
Power Watch India
December 2016

Hands Off My Discom!

Most people who take an interest in the electricity sector are aware that the discom train has clearly jumped off the rails in a large number of Indian states.

9 mins read
Power Watch India
December 2016

Recommendations for Energy Storage in India

India’s energy sector has grown rapidly over the last year driven by policies, reforms and investments. Various policy initiatives such as introduction of UDAY, amendments in National Electricity Act, new solar RPO target for states, biofuel policy, small hydro policy, offshore wind policy and new hydrocarbon policy have all contributed to growth of the industry. However, there is still a long way to go with some persisting issues requiring attention and resolution at the earliest, making the upcoming budget crucial to the energy sector.

3 mins read
Power Watch India
February 2017

Report

Asia-Pacific Region Provides Best Opportunities In Declining Global Gas Turbine Market: GlobalData.

2 mins read
Power Watch India
May 2017

Backup Power

Decision-makers should put in place backup power with safeguards including computer-security measures so that the system offers round-the-clock power and is protected from all sorts of disruptions.

9 mins read
Power Watch India
May 2017

Microgrids Enable A Greater Level Of Penetration For RE

Says Sanjith S Shetty, Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Soham Renewable Energy India (P) Ltd, in conversation with R Srinivasan.

8 mins read
Power Watch India
May 2017

Is Microgrid An Answer To Rural India's Power Woes?

Microgrid can be defined as a small network of electricity users with a local source of supply that is usually attached to a centralised national grid, but is able to function independently. From India’s context, rural microgrid is a small electricity network implemented at a village level with its own generation unit and the electricity generated thus supplied primarily to the village households and in some cases, to some commercial load centres. These microgrids are often not connected to the national grid and have been set up in the villages where there is no grid connection or even if there is a grid, power supply is highly erratic.

4 mins read
Power Watch India
May 2017

Tech & Services

Power Quality: A growing concern.

1 min read
Power Watch India
May 2017

Swedish Deputy Minister On Climate Visits Mumbai

4 mins read
Power Watch India
May 2017
RELATED STORIES

A Reporter at Large: Second Nature

How rewilders in India are working to reverse environmental destruction.

10+ mins read
The New Yorker
December 19, 2022

PATHS HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW

If you've ever seen a makeshift dirt path connecting two sidewalks, that's a \"desire path,\" also known as a desire line or game trail.

1 min read
Popular Mechanics US
January - February 2023

After Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court is expected to rule racial preferences in college admissions are unconstitutional. How will that change american schools and society?

10+ mins read
Newsweek US
November 25, 2022

INCREDIBLE INDIA

FIRST TRIP TO INDIA NEW DELHI

6 mins read
Lens Magazine
October 2022

The Holi Festival

The Holi Festival of Colors in India is a celebration of the victory of good over evil, the destruction of the demoness Holika.

3 mins read
Lens Magazine
October 2022

The New Asian America

It wasn't always this way. We were not so often the headline. Our elders' safety was not a cause célèbre. We weren't even sure that we were a "we"-can so many people with so little in common say that? Still, there were a few shared things. Cooking ingredients, tropes we were sick of. And when the attacks first started in early 2020, we found we shared another: a terrible feeling of dread.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
September 26 - October 09, 2022

Gajan Festival India

This photo project is based on the theme "People & Culture" of India.

2 mins read
Lens Magazine
September 2022

India Chops Away At Internet Freedom

Modi’s campaign against fake news and security threats is cutting off political opposition online

3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek US
August 01, 2022

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

A chip off the old block

5 mins read
Maximum PC
July 2022

A HIGHER CALIBER

With Over 20 Years as a USMC Sniper and Police Officer in Los Angeles, Victor Lopez is in His Element Educating Others to Be More Effective in Austere Environments

10+ mins read
OFFGRID
Issue 50