The ‘unmetered’ chapter in rural power story

Tangedco still grappling with 32 lakh unmetered connnections

May 01, 2018 11:24 pm | Updated 11:24 pm IST - CHENNAI

Tamil Nadu’s achievement on the rural electrification front over the years has been noteworthy: after the last revision of the definition of rural electrification (effected in 1997), the State was, by 1999 itself, identified as one which had achieved 100% coverage.

The State has only built on this success in recent months. For instance, after the launch of the Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya), a Central scheme for providing electricity to every household, in October last year, 2,170 rural households, all in Kanniyakumari district, were electrified using solar energy. “This was done in view of the location of the households in forest areas and the refusal of the Forest Department to extend the infrastructure required for conventional electricity to these households,” says P. Thangamani, Electricity Minister.

However, available data reveals that Tamil Nadu has a long way to go as far as metering of connections in rural areas is concerned. The State has at least 32 lakh unmetered connections, split between 21 lakh farm pumpsets and 11.5 lakh huts.

The failure to meter agricultural connections and supply to hutments has to be seen as a continuation of a legacy.

Even in the run up to the introduction of free power supply scheme for agriculturists during 1984-1990, the authorities had migrated to the levy of flat rate for farm pumpsets, doing away with metering.

The supply to huts covered under the scheme was meant to power only one bulb. It is another matter that many huts have multiple electrical appliances, which ought not to be getting free electricity.

Eight years ago, the now-defunct Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) had submitted to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC) that its attempt to meter all connections was facing “stiff opposition” from agriculturists and hut-dwellers.

‘Beneficial to all States’

“It is our considered policy decision that the connections remain unmetered,” says Mr. Thangamani. He also recalls how former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had taken up the ‘metering’ issue with the Centre, insisting on the removal of the stipulation that supply to all farm pumpsets be accounted for prior to agreeing to the rollout of the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY), a Central scheme for the financial and operational turnaround of power distribution companies.

The Minister goes on to say that it was because of Jayalalithaa’s efforts that the Centre had dropped the stipulation and made metering optional, a move which was “beneficial to all States.”

Notwithstanding the State government’s position on the issue, a senior official in the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (Tangedco) says that steps are under way to properly assess agricultural consumption through alternative means. Under the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), the State is taking up metering of distribution transformers and feeder segregation, both of which would help measure energy consumption by farm pumpsets. Of a total amount of ₹924 crore earmarked for the scheme, around ₹245 crore has been set apart for the two components. The programme is to be completed in a year.

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