Delhi's power woes

Published : Aug 27, 2004 00:00 IST

The private power distribution companies of the National Capital Territory of Delhi have made the supply situation pitiable, with their inefficiency and obdurate actions.

in New Delhi

THE 10 million inhabitants of the National Capital Territory of Delhi have reeled under power cuts every summer for decades. Two years after the privatisation of the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB), nothing seems to have changed. Ironically, Delhi residents are unaware of a key fact: barring the occasional disruption, the new private distributors who supply electricity to the country's capital have had surplus power to draw from all summer.

The peak demand for power this year was easily met even though it rose by nearly 6.8 per cent to the highest level in the last 10 years. There is more: transmission losses recorded by Delhi Transco Limited (DTL), the State transmission utility, have actually halved since last year.

Delhi is in the grip of a miserable summer, made particularly unbearable by regular power cuts. The worst affected part is south Delhi, the city's elite area. There were unending power cuts in upmarket areas such as South Extension, Defence Colony, Lajpat Nagar, East of Kailash, Vasant Vihar, Vasant Kunj, Adhchini, Lodhi Road, Okhla, Munirka, Green Park, Safdarjung Enclave and Dwarka. The load-shedding in these areas was most intense in May, even though the peak demand, touching 3,332 MWs, the highest ever for the month, was easily met.

So, why then is the city without electricity? This is the question the Supreme Court too asked while hearing an old public interest petition seeking answers to the Delhi's power problems. A two-Judge Bench of the court asked Delhi's power distribution companies, or discoms, to file a detailed explanation of the hours of load-shedding they had resorted to in the past year and the reasons for the cuts, by the end of this month.

The power requirement of Delhi is growing at nearly 5 per cent each year, both in terms of the maximum demand and the energy consumption, partly owing to the influx of migrants from neighbouring States in search of better opportunities. True to its national status, Delhi's per capita power demand is the highest in the country, averaging 3,350 MWs each year, and its electricity consumption stands at 1,500 units per person - almost 1.5 times that of Mumbai, the commercial capital of India.

Interestingly, in contrast to Mumbai and other large cities, only 40 per cent of Delhi's demand is met from the local and dedicated generation sources, while the rest is met by the northern electricity grid. The state-run Rajghat Power House, Indraprastha Power Station, Gas Turbine Station, Pragati Power Plant and Badarpur Thermal Power Station together produce 1,400 to 1,500 MW for Delhi, while the rest is supplied by four 400/220 kV grids each at Mandola, Bamnauli, Bawana and Same Pur. However, there is no shortage as such.

"Of late, we have been underdrawing power from the northern grid for the city's consumption as we have sufficient power on our plate. Barring occasional disruptions at the grid end, plenty of power is available for Delhi throughout the year, but if it still fails to reach the consumers then it is largely the fault of the distribution companies," said S.R. Sethi, Director for Operations, Transco.

At the heart of the `powerlessness' felt by most Delhi residents is the performance of the discoms. Things were expected to improve after private players were given the task of manning Delhi's power utilities. Since Independence, power management in the capital has changed hands four times and currently rests with two leading power majors of the country following the privatisation of the DVB two years ago. Reliance Energy Ltd.-owned BSES manages power distribution in two-thirds of Delhi through its two companies - south and west areas are handled by BSES Rajdhani Power Limited; whereas BSES Yamuna Power Limited looks after central and east areas. The Tata Power-owned NDPL distributes power to the north and the north-west of the capital. Both the discoms further have 23 (220 kV) grids between them to supply power to the approximately 28 lakh consumers in the capital area. The tariff structure and other regulatory issues are monitored by the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC).

However, the new private players are yet to match the expectations of Delhi residents. A large number of them, especially under the BSES areas, told Frontline that they expected "better and faster results". On the contrary, there are some who believe that the change has actually added to their woes and also created a sort of disparity within the city owing to the competition between the two discoms. "I am completely disillusioned by this whole privatisation myth. Our area hasn't seen any recognisable improvement in the services provided by these private distributors apart from giving us a couple of extra help line numbers to call to during the cuts," complained Vinayak Kapoor, a resident of South Extension. The plush area braved through frequent load-shedding in the past months, some of which lasted well beyond 10 hours at a stretch.

In a similar vein, S.K. Lodhi, a resident of Vasant Kunj, claimed: "The power cuts were not this long in the DVB era. Two years is sufficient to make at least some difference. We spent most of the nights last month in darkness, without the luxury of even a ceiling fan as the inverters too cannot last very long. Worse, there is only one electrician available in the night hours for the whole of Vasant Kunj even now. And every time an enquiry is made, the attendant's standard response is to attribute the load-shedding to the supplier (Transco)." A few areas in north and north-west Delhi too have had to struggle with unannounced load-shedding in the past two months, though NDPL's performance has been far better compared to its rivals.

ALTHOUGH BSES Rajdhani accepts that this summer in particular was trying for the residents of south Delhi, it claims the crisis was owing to the "failure of the Lodhi Road grid station", which was the prime supplier of power to the affected areas. This was followed by another main supply line of BSES at Indraprastha getting hit by a truck, which put the neighbouring areas out of power briefly. "The 220 kV station got burnt on April 28, and that created the shortfall in the first place. Transco, which is responsible for the maintenance of the grids, took too long to put the station back in order, leading to the crisis. The problem was compounded by a rise in the load requirement, as is natural in summer," said Rakesh Aggarwal, BSES chief executive officer, speaking to Frontline.

Transco, on the other hand, rejected the BSES claim. Sethi said: "Only one of the two 100 MVA transformers had failed at the Lodhi Road grid station and, on the contrary, Transco not only commissioned a new one much ahead of schedule but also provided alternative arrangements to BSES to meet the load." He added: "In fact, we have been reminding the discoms repeatedly to set up alternative lines for areas with a single source of supply. Excessive load-shedding in May anyway could not have been due to the Lodhi Road grid malfunctioning as it supplies power to five large residential areas out of which four already have alternative supplies. Only Defence Colony is solely dependent on the grid for its power requirement."

Frequent power disruptions in the capital have made clear that all is not well among the various partners engaged in providing power to the city. The unsubtle blame game between the discoms and Transco is only adding to the woes of the city, since no one seems to be willing to take responsibility for addressing consumer grievances. Transco has sharply objected to the discoms' tendency to misguide consumers and the media when they resort to load-shedding in their respective areas. According to the transmission utility, the private distributors have been invariably accusing Transco of deficit in power supply in order to justify the sporadic load-shedding.

It is difficult to ignore the disparity between the coverage areas of the two rivals in terms of performance in the last two years, given the fact that they receive the power from the same source in proportion to their requirement. From the consumers' point of view, progress is far more visible in areas managed by NDPL with a base of eight lakh consumers. The company, after taking over from the DVB in July 2002, has already met its regulatory target of Rs.336 crores earmarked for the capital expenditure in its coverage areas. According to NDPL's claim, the money has been spent towards improving system reliability and reducing losses. The discom estimates the addition in network capacity in north and north-west Delhi at 25 per cent. While BSES switched to a different billing system after the privatisation, NDPL modified the DVB model in accordance with its requirements. Today, the discom also has a dedicated on-line system providing information on metering and billing to all its consumers whereby they can view their bills, access billing and usage information, print duplicate bills and even make payments from the web site.

Instances of proportionate load-shedding by NDPL are arguably fewer than those in the BSES areas. Even the reduction in Aggregate Technical and Commercial Losses (AT&C) of NDPL is slightly higher than the one achieved by BSES Rajdhani and BSES Yamuna since July 2002, when they took over from the DVB. Nevertheless, the discom still faces the challenge of tackling the very high levels of power theft, amounting to 70-80 per cent in the outer areas of Delhi such as Mangolpuri and Bawana. An NDPL spokesperson claimed that the discom was facing resistance from people living in these areas during unannounced inspections as also in the matter of installation of High Voltage Distribution System to curb the illegal practice.

BSES, on the other hand, maintains that it has two-thirds of the capital area to manage whereas NDPL controls only one-third. "The progress is less visible to consumers and they tend to believe we are lagging behind our competitor. We have already begun working on the augmentation of our infrastructure and it will take time," claimed Aggarwal. For its nearly 20 lakh consumers, BSES has streamlined the consumer response system introducing fully computerised and dedicated help lines and 140 (24-hour) breakdown vehicles. BSES could also bring down the transformer failure rate in its coverage areas substantially apart from commencing the revamp of its vast cable network.

However, BSES Rajdhani and BSES Yamuna have spent less than Rs.200 crores of the Rs.709 crores sanctioned for capital expenditure in the last DERC tariff order for 2003-2004, which according to power experts explains the "underperformance and failure to meet the consumer expectations" by BSES. Explaining the under-utilisation of the funds, Aggarwal said: "After privatisation, BSES commissioned Swedish power majors Alstom and ABB to conduct a study and ascertain what was required to improve on the existing system. The investment was to be made only after the research was over and the findings were given to us in January 2004." He claimed that BSES has drawn a long-term strategy based on the findings of the study that calls for the augmentation of its infrastructure, and the areas under its coverage should expect a "wonder summer" in 2005 with the capital expenditure target running to over Rs.2000 crores.

However, both BSES and NDPL maintain that two years is not sufficient to meet all expectations of the consumers. Power theft and non-declaration of load enhancements are two challenges they are facing in the ever-expanding boundaries of the territory. "It will take longer to streamline and improve upon what we have inherited from the DVB in terms of infrastructure as well as workforce," Aggarwal said. Most city residents, however, are not impressed with the seemingly endless list of reasons the discoms have for not delivering on their promises.

Worse, the State government is grappling with the ideas of introducing a 10 per cent hike on existing tariff and categorisation of colonies under a unit-area method, which would penalise large users. Delhi's consumers are losing their patience.

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