The real thieves

It’s rained a bit lately but not enough to wipe away memories of those dark nights of unending powercuts, when the sturdiest of inverters packed up. Then, if you remember, we were told Delhi was short of electricity.

Delhi was indeed short, but possibly because the distribution companies were selling electricity meant for you and me on a power exchange - much like a stock exchange - to the highest bidders, to make money.

All three of Delhi distribution companies, popularly called discoms were in the ring: the Tata’s North Delhi Power Limited (NDPL) and the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani group’s BSES Yamuna and BSES Rajdhani.
Together they sold 5.4 million units of energy on the power exchange for Rs 5.35 crore between June 21 and 29. One million units are enough to meet the power demand of 75,000 middle-income households.

The cuts were at their worst in this period. Frustrated and angry Delhiites had taken to the streets in many colonies forcing scared discom staff to abandon local complaint centres.
On June 26, BSES Yamuna, which feeds east and central Delhi, sold power between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. through the power exchange when areas like Mayur Vihar and Patparganj experienced long power cuts.

BSES Rajdhani, which supplies power to south and west Delhi, sold power between 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. when it was shedding load in many of its areas in South Delhi, ostensibly because of a shortage of electricity. NDPL sold power between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. and then again from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 21, 22, 23, 24 and 28 when many areas in north and north-west Delhi, where it supplies power, was experiencing load shedding.

The discoms said they only sell surplus electricity. Lalit Jalan, BSES chairman said: “Over the years owing to various agreements, Delhi has become power-surplus. We are short of power only for very short period during the year. We sell only the surplus power. And all profit that we make through selling power go to our consumers.”
Arup Ghosh, NDPL Chief Operating Officer, said, “We did shed power but only in areas which are theft-prone. We do not have any obligation to supply power to dishonest consumers. Otherwise we sell very little power. For every one unit that we sell we bank 10 units.”

But can it segregate bill-paying consumers from the thieves? “We cannot do it on an individual basis,” Ghosh admitted, adding, “We have identified feeders in high theft-prone area and we disconnect supply to them.”

Experts said the government and the power regulator should step in. “This is crime. Discoms should be barred from doing business if they are indulging in such unethical practices,” said Dr KK Govil, former director (projects), Power Finance Corporation Limited.

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