KPTCL draws flak at public hearing

BANGALORE, NOV. 27. Suggestions and complaints from aggrieved consumers dominated the first public hearing on the proposed power tariff hike organised by the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) here on Monday.

At the public hearing, all the highest-ranking officials of the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited (KPTCL) were present to give replies to the grievances.

Though there were 29 scheduled objections, only 24 were heard. The objectors included representatives of residents' welfare associations, industrialists, farmers' organisations, public sector undertakings (representatives from the Indian Railways and the South Western Railways) and even a political party -- the Communist Party of India (M).

Mr. J.C. Bayareddy from the Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha strongly condemned the KPTCL's proposed move to hike the power tariff. He defended the present KPTCL policy of free power supply for farmers, and sought a scientific study on the paying capacity of the farmers.

Demand-supply gap: Earlier, the Chairman and Managing Director of the KPTCL, Mr. V.P. Baligar, made a presentation before the KERC panel, giving details of the reasons for the proposed tariff hike. According to him, the gap between energy demand and supply in 1999-2000 was eight per cent (a demand of 28,368 MU as against availability of 26,117 MU), while the projected demand-supply gap for 2000-2001 would be nine per cent -- demand of 30,064 MU as against supply of 27,197 MU.

He concluded by requesting the KERC to "reject all the objections and accept the KPTCL tariff proposal".

The KPTCL's "fixed charges" and the free 200 units of electricity enjoyed by KPTCL employees also came in for some heated opposition. Even the KERC Chairman, Mr. Philipose Mathai, pointed out that the concept behind the charges was unclear.

Mr. Baligar maintained that the fixed charges had to be increased in order to enable the KPTCL cover depreciation, operation and maintenance, interest and so on. "Only Rs. 650 crores -- 36 per cent of our total charges -- is recovered as fixed charges," he said.

Free power: As for free power to employees, he stressed that it constituted one of the perks provided by any corporate organisation. Besides, there was also an award under Section 10 A of the Industrial Disputes Act that made it mandatory for the KPTCL to continue with the provision. "It only costs us Rs. 5 crores a year, and we do not want to provoke our employees by removing this facility," he said.

Some CPPs (captive power producers) wanted to know why the KPTCL wanted to woo back its industrial consumers after having asked them to go in for captive power. They questioned how the KPTCL (under its concessional rate scheme) planned to supply power to HT consumers at Rs. 3.25 a unit when it purchased power at Rs. 3.35 a unit.

Mr. Baligar explained that the KPTCL now wanted more industrial consumers as they were "paying customers". "We have already got 257 more HT consumers after we started the concessional rate." That had brought in Rs. 8.75 crores to the organisation in October, he said.

As for the rationale behind the concessional rate, Mr. Baligar said that the KPTCL only spent Rs. 1.96 on power supply to industrial consumers. "This is because our T&D losses for HT are only 11.12 per cent," he added.

The KERC will conduct public hearings at Mangalore on November 28 and 29. The last hearings will be in Bangalore on November 30 and December 1.

As per the Karnataka Electricity Reforms Act, the KERC can take time till December 29 this year to decide on the tariff. The new tariffs will come into force one month after the commission passes an order on the same.