Yasin M Choudhary, the Managing Director of Kashmir Power Distribution Company Ltd (KPDCL) told Iqra Akhoon and Tazeem Nazir that smart metering is vital along with improving distribution infrastructure for a better supply. There are 15 feeder areas in Kashmir getting 23 hours plus power supply because they are smartly metered, he said.
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What is the current demand for electricity and how much do you buy from outside?
YASIN M CHOUDHARY (YMC): During the peak of the winter season the load demand touches 2900 MW against a supply of 1700 MW. Last year, the supply was 1550 MW.
I am told from all the hydropower projects we produce 200 MW because in winter the flow of water decreases. We supply 1700 MW which we purchase from the open market through energy exchanges.
Now I will tell you why these cut-offs are happening and why we are not able to provide electricity 24/7. I will start from a recent speech of our LG that in the last four years, Jammu and Kashmir has purchased electricity worth Rs 2500 crores. In fact, the last loan which was taken for this purpose from Power Finance Corporation [PFC] was Rs 3500 crore to clear power purchase liabilities of previous years.
This year Ukraine’s Russian war led to the snapping of gas supply to Europe. In order to improve its thermal power generation, Europe has imported coal from across the world. So our own thermal power plants are running thin and our thermal production is very low. So, during winters, hydropower production is less as well as thermal. The cost of energy in the open market touches Rs 11-12, a unit and we sell at Rs 2.5 to Rs 3. This is making a serious dent in our finances.
My distribution company, KPDCL is one of the highest loss-booking companies having an ACT loss of 65 per cent. I am purchasing electricity worth Rs 100 but I only collect Rs 35 tariff. That is why I am unable to purchase enough electricity to supply 24×7.
KL: Why are we not able to develop our infrastructure so that our ATC losses come down?
YMC: See ATC losses depend on two factors – billing efficiency and collection efficiency. Our billing efficiency is only 40 per cent. That means if we are getting electricity of Rs 100, we do not know who is consuming 60 per cent. It is because of power theft through hook connections and lack of metering. In Kashmir there are 10.5 lakh connections and only 30 per cent are metered and the rest are running at a flat rate.
Our collection efficiency is only 72 per cent, which means if I have raised a bill of Rs 100, I get Rs 72 only. Right now, domestic consumers owe us roughly Rs 804 crore.
Besides, our infrastructure is poor. We do not have low-tension aerial bunch cable or insulated cable so people steal electricity from bare conductors.
KL: So, the losses are spiralling up?
YMC: In Jammu ATC losses are 50 per cent but Kashmir books more losses. We purchase electricity worth roughly Rs 5000 crore every year for Kashmir and against that we only get almost Rs 1400 crore. The balance of Rs 3600 crore loss is being compensated by the government through subsidies.
KL: What about tariff collection from government departments?
YMC: There are liabilities at the government level as well. For the first time, however, the chief secretary cleared all government dues through book adjustment. In Kashmir, we have very low agricultural connections. All our industrial connections are metered. In commercials, we face both thefts as well as return problems but in domestic it is the highest.
KL: At the same time, Jammu and Kashmir is producing a lot of energy in JKSPDC and NHPC and most of it goes outside.
YMC: I cannot comment on this formally because this is the responsibility of another corporation but Jammu and Kashmir get 12 per cent free power out of our NHPC plants. We are resource rich because of rivers but running water is not electricity. You cannot say just because I have rivers so I will get electricity for free.
KL: What is the MNST scheme?
YMC: MNST scheme is not anything new. This is the third scheme we have run in the last four years. There are Rs 804 crore outstanding dues from domestic consumers because of various factors like Covid19 and Article 370 abrogation. In consideration of that we have given a special limited period offer under which consumers can pay back electricity dues in a maximum of 12 instalments and the late fee will be waived.
KL: Against the 100 per cent metering target, what are the achievements so far?
YMC: Almost 3.5 lakh connections are metered of which 59000 are smart meters. This process started under PMDP almost one year ago. Metering is taking place in Srinagar city. Apart from that 6.85 lakh meters are yet to be installed under the revamp distribution sector scheme [RDSS] which will cover Srinagar and other cities as well, we are starting with the cities and towns and then eventually going to rural areas.
First, we need to understand what makes a smart meter better than a conventional one. Conventional meters are of two types – electromechanical and log meters. In both these meters, a meter reader had to use a ladder to climb the pole and note the reading. The manual reading goes to SDO where it was converted into the bill. Because of this human discretion element in this process, there were problems.
The smart meters transmit the readings of that meter on a real-time basis through a network of local connectors or DCUs and finally into our IT data centre. It is a very sophisticated and state-of-the-art project. There are 59000 smart meter consumers in Srinagar whose consumption data is being collected on second to second basis and on that basis, their billing is done. The readings can be seen by a consumer on their smartphones and the auxiliary app for this which we call the smart bill sahuliyat app.
The load is increasing. Compared to last year, we have added 11 per cent loan in one year by way of new power connections.
KL: How do you deal with protests against the installation of smart meters?
YMC: In many areas, there were protests, even violent attacks on our staff. But that is not an option. Consumers resisting smart meter installations will get disconnected. All the 10.5 lakh connections in Kashmir will be shifted to smart meters. Consumers who have been using smart meters for one year have paid less in comparison to the earlier year when they had conventional meters. Our study is showing that.
Smart meter consumers get 24 hours power supply. In Srinagar, there are 13 feeder areas and one each in Bandipora and Anantnag where we are giving 23+ hours of power supply.
KL: The supply position in the periphery is stated to be dismal.of
YMC: Yes. Metring status decides this and there are transmission and grid issues as well. Smart metered areas have 23 hours of electricity supply and normal metered areas have 4.5 hours of power cuts in Srinagar and areas with a flat rate without any metering have 6.5 hours to 10.5 hours of a power cut. Best power scenario after Srinagar is in Ganderbal and Bandipora districts and Anantnag districts. In Anantnag, we have some feeders which are metered and 100 per cent LTA covered with 23 hours supply.
KL: Why do damaged transformers take so much time to be repaired?
YMC: It would not take months but transformer outage and damage is an issue which is directly linked to consumers’ own over-consumption. After damage when the transformer is de-installed and after repair reinstalled, we have kept a turnaround time as a target so that the services are restored at the earliest. It is 12 hours for urban areas and 24 hours for rural areas which we are strictly meeting. In very remote areas, it can get delayed to a few days.
KL: There has been an increment in the power tariff recently?
YMC: There has been no increment in power tariff but a rationalisation. Our power tariff is a slab wise tariff. Our low-consumption households (BPL or AAY) whose consumption is very low so their minimum slab is rated very low. With the increase in consumption, the prices also increase and the consumers who are highly consuming or people with two-story houses or who have a lot of appliances are getting targeted. This cross-subsidization is done throughout the country. Jammu Kashmir has the lowest electricity tariff as compared to any other state or UT.
KL: What is the mechanism of KPDCL for receiving peoples’ grievances?
YMC: We have a dedicated 24/7 call centre and this is the toll-free number 18001807666. We have five additional phone lines with a mobile number each and we receive thousands of complaints every day. Besides, numerous grievances are registered with the grievances department as well as Raj Bhawan or with the administrative department. We maintain a ticket system for each of those grievances.
KL: Can you brief me about RDSS?
YMC: Revamped distribution sector scheme (RDSS) and replaced earlier schemes like saubhagya, IPDS, RAPDRP and DDUGJY. It focuses on two things – loss reduction and modernization.