Token Fines Wont Do

Updated: Jan 30 2003, 05:30am hrs
After innumerable grid collapses across the country, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) has finally taken some action. It has rapped one defaulting state, namely the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board, with a whopping fine of Rs 1 lakh for having violated the grid code that CERC had itself introduced a few years back. Would this token fine imposed by CERC be a deterrent for other state electricity boards to stop misbehaving and start acting in accordance with norms laid down under the grid code There are definitely some reservations on this. On the one hand, the fine is absolutely insignificant compared to the damage caused through a grid collapse on account of errant boards. On the other, the action taken against the errant board does not include any plan which prevents a repeat of grid collapses in the future. The costs associated with a complete shut down of electricity in a region run into several thousands of crores of rupees as the entire state comes to a grinding halt. Now, one does not expect consequential damages to be borne by the errant state/organisation which causes such a collapse as it simply cannot bear such high costs. But then any punitive action that is taken should, logically, deter a repeat of such incidents in the future. What will the regulator do if a state pays up the penalty but continues to ignore directions of the regulator

Having said that, it needs to be stressed that it is very difficult to fix accountability of a grid collapse on to a single party. It is a systemic fault. The utter disrespect for grid discipline is akin somewhat to people not obeying traffic rules. Despite regulations and warnings, people are not only willing to put others lives at risk but also their own! Such an attitude in the power sector stems from the directions given by the states political leadership which is willing to risk a bit of indiscipline instead of facing the wrath of the public on account of power cuts or load shedding. Underfrequency relays are tampered with, frequency cautions are ignored, resulting in another state downstream getting affected and thereby triggering a domino effect and ultimately a collapse. It is here that the state and Central regulators need to act in tandem and put in place mechanisms both punitive as well as systemic which would prevent collapses from occurring in the future. With more and more players entering the industry, ensuring discipline gains more importance failing which there would be total anarchy.