MUMBAI: Vijay Singhal, managing director of the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL), has big plans for the PSU, including smart meters and electricity feeder managers, all aimed at increasing revenue for MSEDCL, which was a loss-making PSU till two years ago. But his most significant, if provocative, opinion pertains to the agriculture sector: if farmers can pay their mobile and DTH bills on time, he says, they need to pay their electricity bills too.
“There are about 44 lakh agricultural consumers in the state,” said Singhal in an interview to HT. “On account of the agriculture subsidy, they are getting electricity at the cheap rate of about ₹1.50 per unit. Despite this, farmers are not paying their electricity bills. If they can pay DTH or mobile bills on time, then why not electricity bills? Farmers should pay for the electricity they use for crop cultivation.”
Singhal revealed that the dues of various electricity consumers in the state had reached ₹73,000 crore. “Of these, about 70 percent, ie ₹48,000 crore, are pending with agriculture consumers,” he said. “There are more than 15 lakh farmers who have not paid their electricity bills for five to 15 years and defaulted on ₹21,067 crores of MSEDCL.” Singhal hinted that the PSU was going to now initiate action to recover dues from farmers who had not paid their electricity bills for more than five years.
The MD emphasised that due to non-payment of bills, MSEDCL had to borrow money from lenders to purchase electricity, and the interest that was levied on the loan was dumped on honest residential/commercial/industrial consumers who paid their bills regularly. “It is no longer possible to continue the supply of electricity to non-paying consumers, whether in rural or urban areas,” he said. “We are now going to install smart meters with a provision to disconnect the power supply of bill defaulters remotely.”
After Singhal took charge two years ago, MSEDCL, which was in the red by ₹1,350 crore in 2020-21, made a profit of 150 crore last year, and is expected to earn ₹1,500 crore by the end of this financial year. “For the last two years we have been working with a target to increase revenue,” said Singhal. “In the next three years, about ₹40,000 crore will be spent on modernisation and upgradation of MSEDCL infrastructure, including smart meters.”
Elaborating on the turnaround in the PSU’s fortunes, the MD said that something as basic as photographs of meter-readings, which MSEDCL used to calculate consumers’ bills, were at fault. “We found that about 45.8 percent bills were faulty, as they did not have a clear image of the meter-reading,” he said. “Last year, we started a drive for accurate meter-reading and now the faulty bill percentage has come down to just 1.7 percent. That helped us increase our revenue by ₹250 crore per month and ₹3,000 crore in one year.”
Another solution on the anvil is feeder managers. “MSEDCL is now targeting 250 electricity feeders which have a 60 to 70 percent distribution loss by assigning feeder managers to them. This move will reduce losses to the standard level and will add to revenue,” he said.
Singhal added that MSEDCL was trying its best to reduce the power purchase cost in order to control the power tariff hike. “Solar power is a major factor on this front, which provides power at about ₹3 per unit,” he said. “Solar feeders for agriculture consumers are also in the pipeline, and in the coming year, with the help of 2000 MW solar power, we will supply day power to agriculture pumps in these areas.”