Monday, February 23, 2015

Free bijli for the bastis

Notified - 100% subsidy for 100 units of electricity for rural homes 

Homes in rural Sikkim will now enjoy up to 100 units of free electricity. Thus far, only BPL families in rural Sikkim were entitled to subsidized electricity supply of up to 50 units for a two-point connection. 100 units of free electricity for homes in rural Sikkim was an election promise of the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front and the notification to this effect was published on 26 November 2014.
The 100% subsidy for all domestic consumers in rural Sikkim for consumption up to 100 units comes with the caveats that the homes have energy meters installed to ensure accurate metering and in the event that consumption crosses 100 units in any month, the entire consumption shall be charged as per the existing tariff of Rs. 3.45 per unit.
For the purpose of this subsidy, rural areas are defined as areas under Gram Panchayat Unit as notified by Rural Management & Development Department.
The notification also details that the subsidy will not be extended to homes which are still being billed on “average basis” which is still a common practice in rural areas. The notification also makes mention of Electricity Act 2003 Section 55, a clause of which entails that no electricity connection is to be provided to consumers without an energy meter. Towards that end, the notification [dated 26 November 2014] gives a one month notice to consumers to install the required energy meter in their premises failing which their service connection shall be liable to be disconnected. This last clause, officials inform, has not been enforced too strictly yet although subsidy cushion has been discontinued for homes which still receive their electricity bills on average basis.
As of 31 March 2014, Sikkim has 95,824 registered electricity consumers including both, the commercial and domestic consumers in rural and urban areas. Domestic electricity connections across the State number 83,800, of which around 70 percent consumers are in rural areas, informs KK Pradhan, Additional Chief Engineer, Energy & Power Department.
The doubling of the power subsidy volume is bound to affect the Energy & Power Department’s revenue collection figures substantially and also burden the state exchequer. Senior officials inform that the volume of subsidy burden on the exchequer could now be in the vicinity of Rs. 10 to 12 crore per annum.
Before the subsidy burden is brought into discussion, however, the Department’s revenue collection performance also needs to be taken into account, as also the payment performance of other government departments against the power bills. Defaulting consumers, of whom government departments and agencies form a substantial bulk, are reportedly causing a revenue loss of more than Rs. 25 crore. And while domestic consumers can have their service connections disconnected if they default on payment for a year, no such action has been initiated against departmental offices, some of which have arrears running into ten years!
The other aspect of consumption which requires attention is that of power theft, a predilection more common in homes of the more well to do than the lower income group families. Split connections bypassing the energy meters have been detected in the homes of some well-heeled families, but no real follow-up action has been initiated, it is informed. From among the 14 sub-divisions in Sikkim, highest number of such power theft is suspected from the Pakyong sub-division.
The cost of the power subsidy extended to consumers in rural areas can arguably be balanced if the defaulting consumers within the government departments and agencies and the pilferage of power is curtailed. Who knows, if these are undertaken in earnest, then even the practice of billing rural homes for the entire consumption if they use up more than 100 units of electricity can be amended to have them pay only for the surplus they consume beyond the 100 units of 100% free electricity.

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