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Op-Ed Special
Converting Profit Hungry APDCL to Consumer Friendly
Special Contribution
By Nava Thakuria
Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL)

After days of public uproar across Assam in northeast India, the State electricity management came out with a number of clarifications.

Firstly, it asserted that the conversion of metering equipment (from postpaid to prepaid) does not increase the energy loads for a consumer. Secondly, the issue of higher charges against the electricity consumption by a household will be resolved within a few weeks. Thirdly, any complaint from the consumers will be entertained promptly. The household consumers in various localities recently came to the streets drawing attention of Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL), a division of the State-run electricity board, about their unusually high electricity bills which was observed after shifting to the prepaid smart billing meters. The hike was significant (sometimes up to 50%) and lately a forum of graduate engineers also urged APDCL to clarify its stand over the public grievances.

“The process of changing conventional electro-mechanical meters (with a rotating aluminum disc) to electronic (digital/smart) meters with an LCD or LED display must not record more energy consumption (to increase the monthly bills) at any cost,” asserted All Assam Engineer’s Association (AAEA) with an appeal to the APDCL management to simplify the guidelines for domestic consumers and make people aware of those rules. The APDCL authority has revealed that the installed smart prepaid smart meters don't lead to an increase in electricity bills. The company through its official social media account stated, “In case of smart prepaid meters, no extra charge is levied, and existing tariff rates are applicable. However, in order to allay the concern of the consumers, we have made provision to install check meters alongside the smart meter to compare consumption of both meters.”

Insisting that the smart meters provide the consumers an insight on daily consumption which should help them use electricity udiciously as per their needs. The consumers can now monitor their daily electricity consumption by installing the mobile app ‘myBijulee’ and if necessary, they can send queries or complaints through the app, its website (www.apdcl.org) or even call at helpline number 1912. State chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also responded to the public grievances and directed the APDCL to set up a control room for public complaints.

The smart prepayment meter, which has been used by a number of countries across the world, functions under a computer program with international standards and it helps the management to have accurate and reliable information for managing the electricity consumption and demands in its territory. The new technology also helps reduce collective energy loss. It works like a prepaid cell phone connection or a DTH (for viewing television channels), where the consumers actually buy their required energy units in advance and once the balance amount turns zero, the power supply gets automatically cut off. In India, one unit of electricity is calibrated with one kilowatt hour (meaning energy consumed by the appliances totaling 1000 watts for one hour). The balance amount of a consumer keeps reducing after consumption of every unit of energy. Before the amount turns zero, the consumers have to recharge accordingly. For an emergency or in some occasions, they can use the emergency credits.

“The cost of a prepaid electricity meter may be higher than the conventional one, but the APDCL should not put burdens on consumers for the conversion. APDCL is a profit-making enterprise of the government and hence it should consider supplying electricity to the poor families in remote areas with some concessions,” said AAEA president Kailash Sarma, adding that the household consumers should use more LED bulbs and be careful while operating heavy energy appliances like electric irons, dyers, heaters, induction cookers, micro-ovens, air conditioners etc.

Mentionable is that India is the third largest producer of electricity in the world mostly depending on fossil fuels (coal and gas). The government is now looking aggressively for alternate (renewable) energy sources to feed the billion-plus nation. The country has witnessed a visible increase in per capita electricity consumption in recent years and its single day peak demand is expected to rise up to 230 gigawatt very soon. Notably, the electricity tariff in India remains moderate even though higher than that of Iran, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Zimbabwe, Bhutan, Egypt, Burma, Cuba, Ghana, Laos, Argentina, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Russia (in ascending order).

India is followed by Georgia, UAE, Vietnam, China, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Turkey, Belarus, South Korea, Ecuador, Taiwan, Indonesia, Botswana, Tanzania, Mexico, Jordan, Hungary, Morocco, Canada, Thailand, Mozambique, Mauritius, Norway, Bulgaria, Malta, Iceland, Maldives, Cambodia, Colombia, South Africa, Uganda, Costa Rica, Israel, Kenya, Brazil, Senegal, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Romania, USA, Philippines, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Burkina Faso, Slovakia, France, Honduras, Switzerland, Rwanda, Peru, Australia, Singapore, Uruguay, Japan, Barbados, Greece, Guatemala, Portugal, Latvia, Jamaica, Sweden, Spain, UK, Finland, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Denmark (at the top) with higher energy prices.

Assam with over 33 million population depends on energy supplied by external agencies. The demand during the peak hour (5-10 p.m.) is estimated to be around 1,700 megawatt, where Assam Power Generation Corporation Limited produces only 260 megawatt. Out of over 5.5 million subscribers in the State, domestic consumers include about 5.2 million. Even though the APDCL terms the prepaid method of collecting fees against the energy consumed in a household as very simple, it has not spared the consumers from paying the monthly fixed charges. It argues that the charge is necessary to keep the electricity network connection comprising a large number of poles with wires and transformers across the State and the essential services in place. So even if a consumer does not use a single unit of electricity for months, he/she has to pay the monthly fixed charge.

Now the question that arises here is, if the APDCL authority enjoys the power to restrict one’s electricity supply after non-payment of bills immediately, why not the consumer also gets the liberty to use the supply as and when needed? Should not it be irrational if the matter of essential household power connection in India is considered? Why doesn't the authority evolve a formula to reduce the fixed charge (if possible, make it zero) for those families, who prefer installing rooftop solar energy units for their daily consumption of energy? While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been consistently supporting the mission, why should the APDCL emerge as a discouraging agency for those families in their initiative to adopt green energy!



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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