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To combat various challenges of rural electrification, the Union power ministry has suggested to states that their power distribution companies (discoms) should raise “awareness among public at large on uses of electricity”, take up “extensive drive to curb theft of electricity and regularising illegal connections” and “focus on quality, reliability, quantity and timings of power supply in rural areas”.
Moreover, the ministry has suggested a rationalisation of “cost of connection” for rural households, 100 per cent metering at all levels to “facilitate energy audit” and rationalisation of tariffs in line with tariff policy 2016. These “measures to facilitate release of connections to households” were suggested by the power ministry in the agenda for a two-day conference of state power ministers, which will be held on May 3 and May 4, in New Delhi. “Under Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), GoI (Government of India) is providing free electricity connections to BPL (below poverty line) households but if the field reports are believed, many BPL households are not willing to take connections because of the fear of high-amount bills likely to be received by them and its payment,” the ministry noted in the agenda.
The applicable charges for obtaining electricity connections from a discom are required to be paid upfront by the prospective consumers. “Some states, such as West Bengal and Bihar, have introduced schemes wherein no upfront fee/cost towards obtaining a new connection is charged by the discom from the households; however, the applicable connection charges are recovered from the consumers in instalments through electricity bills to be paid by consumers over a period. Such arrangement may motivate the economically weaker households to avail of electricity connections,” the ministry observed.
It added that discoms might also consider availing of loans from Rural Electrification Corporation and Power Finance Corporation to meet upfront expenditure of providing electricity connections to households, “which, in any case, shall be recovered from the consumers in instalments”. Out of total 17.86 crore rural households, approximately 26 per cent (4.61 crore) are still unelectrified.
“Quality, reliability and timings of power supply are also cited as reasons for not showing interest in taking electricity connections. Another reason, which has been mainly noticed recently in Uttar Pradesh, is of ‘katia connections’ and rampant direct theft of electricity,” the ministry stated. On this issue of electricity theft, it suggested to states that “discom staff also need to be monitored in this regard”.
There are a few states — Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Goa — which have achieved 100 per cent household electrification. Kerala, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Mizoram have achieved household electrification of more than 90 per cent.
The ministry suggested 100 per cent metering at all levels (consumers, feeders, etc.) to facilitate energy audit and for extensive usage of technology to improve efficiency and facilitate near real time monitoring and interventions to reduce AT&C (aggregate technical and commercial) losses. The central government has already been pushing “smart meters” — these are advanced electronic measurement and control devices with two-way communication between the meter and the central system.
Currently, the smart meters are being deployed either in pilot projects or in few discoms only. To further strengthen such efforts, the ministry has launched National Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) and Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) with special focus on smart metering in 2014. Mandatory deployment of smart meters was included in the National Tariff Policy 2016.
“Approximately 2 lakh smart meters are under deployment in 11 smart grid pilot projects and one smart city pilot project sanctioned by MoP (the Ministry of Power). More than 8 lakh smart meters are also sanctioned for deployment as integral part of four sanctioned smart grid projects under NSGM. Apart from these, nearly one million smart meters are being considered for deployment by various discoms/private utilities and tenders/EoI (expression of interests) are in process/envisaged,” the power ministry stated.
The remaining unelectrified households are spread across the country in more than 5 lakh villages. “Reaching all these villages, creating infrastructure and releasing connections to households in a time-bound manner is a mammoth task. Completion of this task would require unprecedented efforts by all the stakeholders, particularly the state discoms/power department. Timely completion of works under the sanctioned projects by the state discoms/power departments is a challenge keeping in view the past performance of implementing agencies,” the ministry observed.