The Centre’s ambitious Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) scheme is turning out to be an overload on the finances of Uttar Pradesh’s loss-making power distribution companies (discoms).
Under the scheme, launched in October 2017 with an aim to provide last-mile power connection to all un-electrified rural households and poor households in urban areas, electricity connection has been given to nearly 80,000 houses in the last three years. However, nearly 82.27% of over 2 crore rural consumers have not paid power bills even once since April this year.
Additional chief secretary (ACS) (energy) and chairman of UP Power Corporation (UPPCL) Arvind Kumar, in a series of tweets, lamented the lack of consumers’ cooperation in clearing power dues on a regular basis.
“While we (UPPCL) get a lot of flak for power supply issues, the attached figures indicate that only 17.73% (36.98 lakh) of our rural consumers have paid at least once since April 1, 2020. The rest about 171.64 lakh, out of total 208.62 lakh consumers, have not paid even once,” he tweeted without mentioning the Saubhagya scheme.
UP discoms’ losses in FY19 were to the tune of Rs 6,000 crore.
Similarly, in urban areas, 72.49% (52.23 lakh out of 72.05 lakh) have paid electricity bills since April, while nearly 20 lakh have not paid even once in the current financial year. While the situation in urban areas is better than the rural, the progressive turn-up has come down from 81.68% in August last year to 72.49% this year, registering a fall of 9.19%.
According to data, in both rural and urban areas, the Purvanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam (PuVVNL) or the Varanasi discom, which the state government is planning to privatise, is lagging behind other discoms. While in rural areas, Paschimanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam (PVVNL) (Meerut discom) has a progressive turn-up of 28.26%, Dakshinanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam (DVVNL) or the Agra discom has a turn-up of 21.26%, followed by Madhyanchal Vitaran Nigam (MVVNL) or the Lucknow discom with a turn-up of 14.32%. The PuVVNL has fared the worst with a turn-up of 12.51%.
Similarly, in urban areas, PVVNL managed better than others with a turn-up of 78.80%, followed by DVVNL (73.10%), MVVNL (71.54%). Here, too, PuVVNL ended up last with 78.80% turn-up.
Stating that these figures only refer to billed energy and do not take theft into account, Kumar tweeted that consumers need to cooperate by paying their bills on a monthly basis, adding that Covid-19 has also dealt a blow by bringing down the turn-up by about 2% vis-à-vis last year. “If we want to move towards 24-hour supply, consumers will need to pay up,” he tweeted, adding that the department is making it easy for rural consumers to make payments by roping in SHGs, PDS shops, CSC-VLE and PACS.
The Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation has added nearly 1.25 crore new electricity connections in the last three years, of which 80,000 have been added under the Saubhagya scheme while the rest have been covered under other rural electrification schemes such as Deendayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana, RAPDRP and the erstwhile Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana.
According to UPPCL officials, more than 1 crore households have been electrified in rural areas in the state under various schemes. “Power connections in the rural areas have been mostly provided to people who were earlier making do with illegal connections. We did try to bring them under the legal fold. But, they are so used to using free power, (or katiya as they say in these areas), that they are not ready to pay for it,” said an official requesting anonymity.
“Moreover, the government’s political stance of providing electricity for 24 hours in all district headquarters, 18 hours in rural areas, 20 hours in tehsil headquarters and the Bundelkhand region is adding to the losses of the discoms. While we are giving rural consumers increased hours of power, they are not ready to pay even a penny. So, all the power is actually going down the drain and putting the existence of the discoms under a huge question mark,” he said.