The 2000 Crore Delhi Vidyut Board Scam

The Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) and its earlier incarnation, the Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking (DESU), has been perhaps one of the worst run utilities in the country. The utility loses a staggering Rs.2,000 crore every year due to theft of electricity. And if this is not all, more than 90% of the new electric metres installed are faulty. Thus, virtual all new connections are being charged a flat rate, making a mockery of commercial principles on which any utility is supposed to run.

If the theft of electricity is so high, who are the ones who benefit from it? If the DVB and the media are to be believed, the poor jhuggi dwellers are stealing electricity, and are the main culprits. The real picture is quite different. Last year, a study was carried out by an independent body (Infra Eff Services) which analysed detailed data of DVB and came to the conclusion that the industry and commercial establishments were the main culprits in such thefts. They have now been joined by a section of the yuppie middle class, who have turned large consumers through luxury consumption of air conditioners and geysers. It is not surprising therefore, that the electricity undertaking has seen its commercial losses ( euphemism for theft and Transmission-distribution losses) have mounted from about 20-22% in 1993 to 54.6% in 1997-98. No wonder DVB’s financial losses have also mounted from Rs.250 crore in 1993 to over Rs.700 crore in 1997-98.

The Delhi electricity undertaking has been one of the worst run in the country. It has very little justification for high commercial losses as it has neither long transmission lines which cause large Transmission and Distribution (T&D) losses nor large rural areas. It has a compact area to serve and no agricultural loads to subsidise. It has also the highest average tariff in the country — Rs.3.02 in 1997-98 — a tariff which would put most boards in a comfortable surplus. In spite of all these, DVB totalled a loss of Rs.700 crore -n 1997-98, an increase of 200% of its losses from the Rs.250 crore loss it had five years back. And for most of this period, the Delhi electricity undertaking was directly under the Centre. While the Central Government was pontificating to the State governments on the need to make the working of the SEBs commercial, it was itself running the Delhi equivalent down to the ground. And this without the normal bane of the SEBs as reported by the media and opined by the experts: subsidies to agriculture. This also exposes one of the central arguments given for the financial losses of the SEBs, namely subsidies to agriculture, is not the real one and problems of SEBs lie elsewhere.

Not only has large scale theft of electricity continued under various Congress and BJP Governments, it has in fact increased. Under the last BJP Government, theft of electricity had increased drastically — climbing as we have note earlier from 20-22% to a huge 54.6%. Now, only 46.4% of electricity supplied is billed. While the main culprits earlier were industries, the upwardly mobile air conditioning crowd has joined in this loot now. And to cap it all, more than 90% of new metres in Delhi are faulty, thus making all new connections unmetred. It might be noted that faulty metres seem to be peculiar to Delhi and not present in other SEBs. For example, in West Bengal, all metres are bought from the public sector undertaking BHEL and hardly any metre is faulty.

Why is it that the Delhi undertaking is running with such large losses while it has so many advantages over other SEBs? Why is it that other metros can supply electricity at lower costs, have much lower commercial losses (15-20%) and yet are more efficient than DVB? The issue is simple: there has been no political will to set straight the matters of DVB. Instead of addressing the issue of theft, the argument has been advanced that it is not possible to rectify DVB and it should be privatised. The usual panacea of privatisation irrespective of the disease.

DVB’s view, and now that of the recent Congress Government in Delhi, the major theft of electricity takes place in the jhuggis and unauthorised colonies. They have now announced a scheme by which the local distribution of electricity is going to be criminalised. Under this scheme, 236 unauthorised colonies will be given a single point High Tension (HT) supply. Further to this, a “Residents Welfare Association” will take over the installation of equipment, maintenance and operation of the distribution system. For this they will be allowed to keep 15% of the recoveries provided they bill and recover the entire electricity supplied to them. The reality of these colonies is that there are no welfare associations. Given this scenario, the local “dadas” or “prdahans” will form their “Welfare Associations” using strong arm tactics while giving licenses to these welfare associations will become another source of political patronage. The consequence will be a crminalised distribution system in these areas, where the ordinary consumer can be held to ransom by these so-called distribution agencies.

Why does DVB, which provides electricity up to the metre for all other consumers in the city, want a different system for the not so well-off consumers living in these colonies? DVB’s views in this respect are no different from that of various urban authorities in the city, that the poor have no rights to the city. Thus a Supreme Court decides that the poor of Delhi are polluting the city, and through its relocation order destroys their livelihood. Water, sanitation and electricity — the basic civic amenities are provided to the poor, albeit grudgingly. It is a part of this world view that the well-off electricityconsumers should be looked after by the DVB while the poor are left to fend with a criminalised distribution system.

Instead of washing its hands off the poorer colonies and imposing huge power cuts on the city in this sweltering summer heat, DVB should take the following measures to immediately improve its supply and cut down its losses:

        Provide adequate supply to all colonies

        Crack down on power thefts, particularly in industrial areas

        Immediately change the faulty metres in the city through a crash program

        Black list firms who are supplying faulty metres

        Carry out energy audits at sub-station level by monitoring electricity supplied and recoveries

        Make public these figures for each sub-station and associate Residents Welfare Associations and Consumer organisations in Local Distribution Committees

        Set up a special cell for HT consumers and monitor their consumption and recoveries

        Special audits for industrial areas and associate industrial area representative bodies in this audits

        Provide connections to all citizens who want a connection

        A DVB-Delhi Government Committee with representation of other political parties and consumer groups/peoples bodies for examining the problems of DVB and discuss alternatives