It is also mulling over imprisoning Chief Secretaries to curb the practice

The Centre is planning to levy heavy penalties on States that overdraw electricity and imprison their Chief Secretaries to curb the practice that cause grid failure.

“I am contemplating now [a] heavy fine and also a provision to imprison authorities and Chief Secretaries for disobeying that... Perhaps, we need to enforce it,” Union Power Minister Veerapa Moily told Karan Thapar in Devil’s Advocate programme on CNN-IBN.

Over half of the country’s population in 21 States went without power for several hours on July 31 after three transmission grids collapsed, bringing the northern, eastern and northeastern regions to a grinding halt. The failure happened less than 24 hours after the northern grid went down on July 30. Over-drawal by some States was one of the reasons.

Citing the report of an expert panel that probed the grid failures, Mr. Moily said: “There are various reasons, and it is not only because of overdrawing by some States in the northern grid but also because of overloading from the western grid.”

Mr. Moily felt that there should be independent regulatory authorities at the State level to check overdrawing. “We may have to bring some legislation and [an] amendment to the Electricity Act, 2003, to ensure that their enforcement powers are really strengthened.”

To keep key services running whenever grids failed, the government was looking at the possibility of islanding of critical facilities such as hospitals, airports, railways and the Metro, he said. However, islanding “the entire capital [New Delhi] would not be possible.” (Islanding means providing vital services with dedicated supply to insulate them from major outages.)

Mr. Moily noted that the distribution system “is in bad shape.” The distribution companies were bogged down with huge losses, and the government was working on restructuring their debts. “We are working on a debt restructuring plan... so that all the State distribution system is revamped. [It] will be done with very stringent conditions.”

From now on to 2014, government would reduce power loss to theft and dissipation from the current 27 per cent to 15.5 per cent, he said.

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