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Transmitting confidence

Print edition : Apr 22, 2005 T+T-
The corporate office of the BESCOM in Bangalore.-PICTURES: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The corporate office of the BESCOM in Bangalore.-PICTURES: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Limited has not only been able to shed the negative image of a public utility, but has also added many firsts to its credit.

LIKE most public utilities, the Karnataka Electricity Board (KEB), was criticised for its apparent inefficiency in system maintenance, disregard for consumer interests and tardy implementation of expansion programmes. Power cuts and voltage fluctuations were the rule rather than the exception. Transmission and distribution (T&D) losses were as high as 38 per cent in Karnataka as a whole.

But that, according to Karnataka's Energy Minister H.D. Revanna, is a "thing of the past". Today T&D losses have come down to around 26 per cent, with the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Limited (BESCOM) leading the way.

BESCOM's distribution (the utility is not into transmission) losses are currently pegged at around 23 per cent, with the losses in Bangalore being under 10 per cent, which is among the lowest for all cities in India. Additionally, most of the 52 towns that come in BESCOM's purview have either returned less than 10 per cent distribution losses or will do so in the next two months. Interestingly, there has also not been a single transformer failure in Bangalore in the past 30 months, a feat the utility wants to replicate in all the towns in its area of operation.

What caused the turnaround? The Karnataka government, worried about its power utility's ability to survive the competition from independent power producers and the leaks in its coffers, embarked on a major reforms programme of the power sector in 1999. As a first step the KEB was dissolved and in its place the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited (KPTCL) was incorporated. This was followed by the constitution of the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) in the same year. Then, in an attempt to revamp the power sector into a more manageable one, the government decided to unbundle distribution from the transmission business that KPTCL had been entrusted with. Four new distribution companies, known as ESCOMs (electricity supply companies), were formed to distribute power in the State. BESCOM is one of them. The others are Mangalore Electricity Supply Company Limited, Gulbarga Electricity Supply Company Limited and Hubli Electricity Supply Company Limited. A fifth, Chamundeshwari Electricity Supply Company Limited (in Mysore), was created recently.

Although the reform process was neither painless nor quick (it was started in 1999 but it was only in June 2002 that the ESCOMs were incorporated), it has meant a leaner and more efficient utility. Crucially, while earlier one Managing Director oversaw the power distribution in the entire State, unbundling has made it possible for focussed management of the work of the ESCOMs, since each one of them is headed by a Managing Director.

Reforms have also meant a sea change in the attitude and perception of the employees. Gone are the days when consumers' needs were unimportant. Says Bharat Lal Meena, Managing Director, BESCOM: "They [employees] have realised their responsibilities and are aware of the ever-changing and demanding expectations of customers. Today better service is our corporate objective. This has made the vital difference between what we were and what we are."

The employees have also been put through orientation and training programmes. During the past year the company provided 16,000 mandays of training to its 11,262 employees, a far cry from the days when most employees spent an entire working career in the utility without undergoing a day's training. It was for the first time that employees were taught to realise their own accountability and objectives. The training covers such areas as customer care, stress management and developing job and productivity enhancement skills. According to Meena, BESCOM takes the feedback from the training programmes seriously and seeks to implement corrective measures wherever necessary.

The training programmes are also designed to ensure that all employees go through at least one programme in a financial year. While senior and middle-level managers from BESCOM keep visiting other public and private utilities to observe, absorb and implement the "good practices" that are followed there, employees - cutting across hierarchy - are rewarded with appreciation letters and cash awards for good, competitive work.

Apart from employee realisation, there has also been an improvement in the utility's network. For example, as Meena points out, the number of transformers in Bangalore has been more than doubled from 6,000 in 2001 to 14,000, and a number of intermediary poles have been added wherever required. The improved network has helped in giving better power supply to the customer.

BESCOM, which took over from KPTCL the responsibility for the distribution of electricity in six districts - Bangalore Urban, Bangalore Rural, Kolar, Davangere, Chitradurga and Tumkur - and commenced operations in June 2002, has over 51 lakh consumers now and covers an area of 41,092 square kilometres and a population of over 1.68 crores. BESCOM also serves over 4.8 lakh irrigation pumpsets. The company has three operating zones - Bangalore Metropolitan Area, Bangalore Rural Area and Chitradurga.

The utility's assets are in excess of Rs.1,171 crores, with revenues in 2004-05 expected to cross the Rs.3,500-crore mark comfortably (up from the Rs.3,251 crores in 2003-04 and Rs.2,705 crores in 2002-03). BESCOM's monthly collection is currently in excess of Rs.300 crores, up from the Rs.220-225 crores a year ago.

It is no secret that Bangalore and the major towns (with a population in excess of 20,000) provide BESCOM with 80 per cent of its revenue, consuming 60 per cent of the power. Of the 50 million units that BESCOM buys from KPTCL, Bangalore consumes as much as 20 million units. While currently BESCOM has more or less been able to meet the ever-increasing power needs of Bangalore and most of the towns, it supplies nine hours of power to the rural areas - five hours during the day and four in the night, power which is utilised mainly for pumpsets.

In an effort to improve customer care, BESCOM has started 24-hour Consumer Complaint Cells, which function at all subdivisional offices in Bangalore and at all divisional headquarters in the utility's other operating areas. The staff manning many of these counters have been outsourced and trained in the art of customer feedback. According to Meena, outsourcing the job of handling customer complaints has made a huge difference in the way the public views the utility. There is also a weekly customer grievance redress day. In addition, Jana Samparka Sabhas (public contact meetings), where local representatives and gram panchayat members are heard, are held in each revenue subdivision.

The utility has also introduced customer friendly measures such as any time payment kiosks (27 are operating in Bangalore), spot billing (where the meter reader reads the power consumed, provides the customer with a bill and even receives the payment), computerisation of bills (dispensing with manual ledgers and minimising the chance of human error), an electronic clearing system for the payment of bills and displaying customers' bills on the utility's website. An interactive voice responsive system has also been put in place. The slew of Information Technology initiatives has not only brought in transparency into the accounting procedures but also minimised room for unethical practices.

BESCOM has also been one of the first public utilities in India to introduce insurance cover not just for its own assets and employees but also for the assets of consumers. Meena said: "If a consumer's television is damaged owing to a sudden surge of power, he can claim compensation." Although it sounds too good to be true and BESCOM and the insurance company are yet to make any payouts, Meena said that a sheaf of complaints were being processed and as and when it was conclusively proved that the damage was owing to a surge in power, compensation would be paid. The good thing about this is that the consumer need not pay any insurance premium, the scheme being part of BESCOM's overall insurance package, for which a premium of Rs.70 lakhs has been paid by the utility.

In a bid to identify and stem power theft, BESCOM has introduced an energy wise audit at its nearly 80,000 Distribution Transformer Centres (DTCs). In the first phase of this audit, meters are being provided in 16,000 DTCs located in the 52 cities/towns. Under this audit, the purview of a meter reader are made co-terminus with the transformer that provides the power to a set of consumers. The reader notes the readings of the consumers' meters as well as the readings on the DTC that supplies power to this set of consumers on the same day. The readings can then be compared.

According to Meena, the audit will help make a more meaningful computation of energy losses as a result of theft or faulty meters, which will show up automatically. The audit involved over 3.5 lakh meters that are tapping power from 14,000 DTCs.

The audit has shown that of these 14,000 meters, energy losses in 37 per cent are below 5 per cent; between 5 and 10 per cent in 21 per cent of the meters, and above 10 per cent in the remaining. The meters that come under the high-loss category will then be rated/checked by any one of the 116 BESCOM teams (that have been especially formed).

According to Meena, it is for the first time that any power utility has undertaken such an energy audit on such a large scale. BESCOM hopes to expand the audit to rural areas by June.

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