One of the most visible departments of the present Government in Assam is Power. With a proactive Chief Minister and a new minister at the helm, the Department has started clicking on the right switches.
Historically, transmission and distribution losses have been the biggest drag on discoms in India so much so that the Central Government continues to bail them out year after year. The same is the case with Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL). Since its incorporation in 2009, it has consistently been in the red. With a section of big power consumers not paying its bills and resorting to malpractices like power theft, the picture looked bleak for the company. Until now.
The APDCL has since taken measures to rev up revenues, recover old dues, and cajole and coax consumers to pay their outstanding while coming down hard on power theft. The direction from the top is as clear as it gets: Make APDCL a profitable entity.
Towards that, the APDCL is in the process of creating a database of its nearly 66 lakh consumers and implementing an improved billing system to cut down losses. It is also installing smart meters across the State, a target which it sets to achieve by 2025. So far, work on approximately 10 lakh smart metres is being completed. It is streamlining bill & revenue collection practices, while taking necessary steps to recover unpaid dues from Government offices & departments. Taking a tough stand towards Government officials, the Chief Minister has directed Power officials to recover unpaid bills of Government servants directly from their salaries through the Drawing and Disbursing Officers(DDOs).
As a result of all these measures, APDCL has hit the ground running. An aggressive campaign against power theft by arresting those complicit in the malpractices and resorting to disconnection drives against defaulters, being one step. This, and timely collection of bills have resulted in increased collection in its coffers. So much so that in July 2021, it collected a revenue of ₹ 750 crore, the highest ever in its history.
The company has also launched schemes like ‘Special One-Time Settlement Scheme, 2022’ to settle assessment/supplementary bills from defaulters, and ‘Surcharge Waiver Scheme’ (extended till June 15, 2022). The scheme allowed consumers to settle their electricity bills and arrears at one go while availing 100% surcharge waiver. Nearly 3.80 lakh participants availed off the scheme till March 2022 which yielded the APDCL an amount of ₹ 361 crore.
The turnaround measures of APDCL is likely to get a fillip after the Union Cabinet approved an assistance of ₹ 6,286 crore for Assam to implement power reforms recently. Of the total assistance, ₹ 3,677 crore is for installation of smart metres and ₹ 2,609 crore to mitigate loss reduction.
Yet, there are areas where APDCL needs to tread cautiously. There are many like Renu Dutta, who are aggrieved. “All this talk of APDCL turning profitable is commendable, but it must not come at the cost of service. We frequently experience unannounced power cuts of short durations. There are times when the duration is much longer. During Bihu, we didn’t have power for a whole day,” she says.
She wants the Department to generate more electricity. Statistics suggest that in Assam, the peak demand is in the region of 2,100 MW while the State generates on its own anywhere between 200-300 MW although its generation capacity stands at 441 MW. The shortfall is covered by buying power from other producers, both private and government entities, which certainly comes at a price, more so, during times like this when the country, especially North India, is going through a heat wave.
However, with the usage of renewable energy sources gaining momentum in recent years, the Department, too, is seen moving away from its overwhelming dependence on thermal & hydro and joining the solar and renewable bandwagon. The inaguration of the 70MW Amguri Solar Park being an example. Private groups like Azure Power Ltd and Jakson Powers are contributing a bulk of the renewable power production in the State which is 393 MW, out of which the APDCL produces 212 MW of solar power.
Rakesh Kumar, MD, APDCL told Asom Barta in an email interview that a renewable policy is under preparation with a tentative target of around 1200 MW from various sources. Meanwhile, in the budget statement of FY 2022-23, the Government has announced “Mukhya Mantri Souro Shakti Prokolpo’’ under which it seeks to install 1000 MW solar power plants across the State in a phased manner. “A portion of it will be installed with storage capacity considering the peak load requirement,” Kumar responded to a query.
The Department is also inviting prospective landowners/farmers/cooperatives/ panchayats/FPOs to lease their barren/uncultivated land for setting up grid connected ground-mounted solar photovoltaic power plants through Component-A of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Urja Surakshan evam Utthan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM).