The state government is working on a draft proposal to segregate and shift agriculture feeders from coal-based power to solar energy through a long-term policy aimed at making both agriculture and industries financially sustainable.
Highly placed sources in the energy ministry said, “Power supply to farmers in Maharashtra is heavily subsidised at 85 paise per unit. As a result, Rs 8,000 crore financial burden incurred on subsidy given to farmers is partly recovered from industrial and domestic consumers. This leads to higher power rates for industrial sector as well as domestic consumers.”
Non-recovery of dues from agriculture is also steeply rising having crossed Rs 15,000 crore.
Through its policy reforms being worked out, it is felt the state government should completely segregate agriculture feeders from non-agriculture feeders both in terms of logistic and financial implications.
The package of Rs 8,000 crore which goes in subsidy can be invested in solar power. If sizeable 1.37 crore farmers shift from thermal power to solar energy, it would bring down cost of thermal energy as well as unburden the industrial sector.
The average cost of power is Rs 5.50 per unit to Rs 6.50 per unit. However, farmers get power at 85 paise to Re 1 per unit. Whereas, industries have to shell out Rs 8.50 to Rs 9.50 per unit. The government reckons that the agriculture sector will have to be provided with an energy model that is cost effective and sustainable.
Maharashtra, reeling under the fourth consecutive drought, has exempted farmers from paying electricity bills. As a result recovery from agriculture has been very low.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis at a meeting suggested, “The process of shifting agriculture power to solar energy in a phased manner should be taken up keeping in mind the 15 to 20 years horizon. Coal-based power is unlikely to come down if not substantially rise in next two decades.” He also expressed concern over the outcry from industries to address the high power tariff to make them more competitive with neighbouring states.
Although Energy Minister Chandrashekhar Bawnakule has initiated steps in these directions, promising to replace the existing 40 lakh agriculture pumps with more efficient ones, the bigger task is to mobilise revenue for the energy sector.
Fadnavis indicated that the initiative to plug mismanagement in coal supply policy has helped to save Rs 700-800 crore. The centre’s coal policy has provided assured coal linkages. The abundance of quality coal nearby has helped check outgoing foreign exchange for purchasing coal from abroad. While there is adequate domestic coal supply, the concern relates to better management in terms of corrupt practices.
Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal has seriously noted the complaint from the state energy minister over irregularities in coal quantum supplied through railway wagons. The state government pointed out that, “The railway wagons holding capacity varied but they uniformly charged higher rates.” The theft was exposed by Bawankule through personal inspection.
Another reform to boost revenue relates to enforcing electricity duty on consumers seeking electricity from third party instead of state agencies. This would help the state earn Rs 450 crore annually.
The government will bring a legislation in the monsoon session through amendment in the Maharashtra State Electricity Duty Act.