Power deficit and theft have long been India’s woes but state-wise data recently put up by the power ministry on Urja app paint an even grimmer picture. On an average, the country goes without power for about 17 hours in a month, with wide disparity among regions: for example, Haryana faces power cuts to the tune of ten times the national average and Uttar Pradesh, 8 times. These figures controvert the power deficit data which the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) puts out. The CEA, for instance, estimates the power deficit in Haryana to be nil and that in UP just 0.3%.
Similarly, pan-India power theft is now 22% whereas it is over 35% in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, Urja app discloses, indicating that despite focused efforts to cut pilferage, India’s power-sector entities continue to suffer heavily from the scourge of theft. The UDAY scheme for reviving the debt-burdened state-run power distribution entities envisages the aggregate technical and commercial losses, the jargon for theft, at 15% by FY19.
Although the power ministry has said it takes no responsibility for the accuracy of the Urja app data provided by state discoms, the divergence of the data with the CEA statistics is a cause for concern. It may be recalled that based on the inputs from the state, the CEA, a technical arm of the power ministry, had reported that the country would be power surplus in the current fiscal.
Wide disparity between CEA’s deficit data and power cuts reported on Urja app
Not just Urja app, anecdotal evidences such as reports of widespread load shedding in several cities, including Noida and Gurgaon in the national capital region, also question the CEA claim.
“We have suggested that the government and the CEA should not use the ‘power deficit’ criteria in its annual reports, as the definition varies from state to state,” Rajesh Mediratta, director of business development at Indian Energy Exchange (IEX), told FE. The exchange provides the country’s biggest platform for spot trade of power. Power cuts, Mediratta said, can be a function of weak distribution network where old substations and transformers aren’t able to carry the current load, forcing the discoms to regulate power in such areas during peak hours. The other reason could be the lack of financial prowess among discoms to buy more power to meet demand. Some states also regulate power to areas where losses are huge. However, power outrages due to these reasons are not covered under the CEA’s ‘power deficit’ data. “The CEA should create a category of ‘unserved demand’ which would encompass all the scenarios that lead to the curtailment of power supply. This will represent the power supply scenario in the the country more accurately,” Mediratta added.
The Urja app provides the ranking of states on their performance in the sector on six parameters, including power theft. The other parameters include average power cut per month and pending consumer complaints. Although the data is taken from roughly 1,200 IT-enabled towns covered under the integrated power development scheme, it is fairly representative.
The usual suspects namely Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Jharkhand feature at the bottom of the pile on nearly all parameters. The performance of these states are symptomatic of the large debt accumulated by their discoms over years. However, despite high debt levels and accumulated losses, states like Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab fare rather well on most parameters. Experts say that such states would find it much easier to break even, as their fundamentals are not as weak. Curiously, Karnataka, which houses the country’s IT capital Bengaluru, features among the states where e-payment by consumers is yet to pick up. Just a little over 2% of Karnataka’s consumers pay their power bills online, while the pan-India figure is 7%.