Aiming at facilitating consumer involvement in power sector reforms CUTS and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) jointly launched the programme ‘Involvement of Consumer in Power sector Reforms’ in six select districts of Rajasthan in August 2001. The process and methodology for achieving the stated objectives was finalised after rigorous consultation with all stakeholders, consumer groups, civil society organisations, regulator, utility, polity, and the government. Broadly the programme has the following three-fold approach; (i) Advocating at policy level to achieve greater institutional space for consumer concerns; (ii) Building capacities of grassroots consumer groups to enable them representing their concerns at available forums, and play vigilant ‘watchdog’ (iii) Creating awareness among these groups of their rights & responsibilities
About the workshop
Since the programme is running in six select districts of Rajasthan on pilot basis, the workshop was organised with specific objective of let all involved stakeholders critically evaluate the approach followed in this programme as well as outcomes thus far; and further fine tune the future strategy.
Pradeep Singh Mehta, Secretary General CUTS briefly explained about the rationale behind CUTS-FES initiative as well as outcomes thus far. This was followed by remarks from Dr. Manfred Haack resident representative FES India. Dr. Haack expressed satisfaction about the value the programme has been delivering to consumers, regulator and utilities. He opined for scaling up this initiative from pilot stage and spread over entire Rajasthan, replicate in other states too. Dr. Haack also expressed that many countries are facing similar challenges therefore it would be useful to prepare a blue print of this successful best practice and with those parts of the world.
C. K. Mathew, Chairman, Jaipur/Jodhpur/Ajmer Vidhyut Vitaran Nigam Limited assured for all support to CUTS-FES programme and suggest for more intensive activities. He also assured for appropriately utilising the funds available for creating consumer awareness about reforms.
Arun Kumar, Chairman, Rajasthan Electricity Regulatory Commission, emphasised to go ahead with similar approach and to cover the entire Rajasthan to the block level. He mentioned that this initiative would bring in the attention of other stakeholders to the neglected ones called consumers. He particularly emphasised the need for creating more and more ‘watchdog’ in all parts of the state so that consumer representation could be enhanced to the regulatory commission both qualitative and quantitative manner. He suggested for CUTS to keep playing the role of consumer representative in organised manner and amplify the neglected voice. He proposed to CUTS to take up a comprehensive study to see the extent to which distribution companies actually maintaining the standard of performance till the grassroots.
Shanti Prasad and M. S. Dharendra, Member RERC; R. G. Gupta, Managing Director Jaipur Vidhyut Vitaran Nigam Limited; H. D. Charan, Chairman & Managing Director Jodhpur Vidhyut Vitaran Nigam Limited (formerly); representatives of consumer groups from different parts of Rajasthan; select activists from other states; media representatives were others to deliberate in the two days long consultations. The consumer activists from other states such as Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttranchal, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerla, New Delhi, Gujrat, Tamil Nadu, were strongly came out with the collective suggestion for replicating the ‘CUTS-FES Model’ in their states.
The representatives of those consumer groups have been involved in executing this programme in Sawai Madhopur, Alwar, Jalore, Sirohi, Chittorgarh, Bhilwara districts of Rajasthan strongly recommended to take up more intensive activities till the block/village level in a delegated manner and also to spread the activities in other parts of the state.
Following are the broad recommendations emerged out of the group work and deliberations:-
- Having ‘critical mass’ of capable consumer groups/CSOs is must to achieve the stated objectives of consumer representation and participation both at state and national level.
- To further strengthen the three-fold approach adopted into ‘CUTS-FES Modal’; information flow & capacity building (top-to-bottom); representation of consumer concerns & watchdog role (bottom-up); and coordinating with utilities at different levels (horizontal reachout)
- The objectives of the programmes can be achieved only if adequate advocacy efforts at policy level are consistently made by CUTS and the entire network and to align these efforts till the grassroots. This is important since the fallouts of policy matters (rural electrification, cost of power, tariff policy) are huge on common consumers.
- Effective representation district/block level CSOs in regulatory proceedings has to be enhanced in qualitative and quantitative terms. However to achieve the same, consistent nurturing and capacity building exercise is required to adequately equipped them to deal with techno-commercial-legal issues involved.
- Compilation and documentation of the approach & process followed by ‘CUTS-FES Model’ is recommended so that this experience could be disseminated at wide scale.
- Publishing reader friendly informative documents on relevant issues is must for supporting such initiatives.
- To achieve the stated objectives it is very important to have ‘critical mass’ and that can be done through spreading out the ‘CUTS-FES Model’ to other parts of the country. This should be done based upon availability of capable partner organisations at local level.
- Another outcome of critical analysis of CUTS-FES programme; major stakeholders including grassroots net-workers, regulators, service providers were of the opinion that ‘CUTS-FES Model’ is very effective however to achieve the desired outcome it must be executed at larger scale.
- It was also realised that strengthening ‘watchdog’ role CSOs is crucial for mainstreaming the consumer concerns at the time of decision making. It is necessary to have effective representation at regulatory commission to arrive at acceptable & equitable decisions. However this can only be done through building capacities of grassroots CSOs to deal with such techno-commercial-legal matters.
- Constructive cooperation with utility staff at grassroots has substantially improved in some parts of project areas however the response from utility staff is of mixed nature so far. Therefore running similar programmes for sensitising utility staff may help in achieving better results.
- Promotion of solar energy in select rural areas must be considered as one of action point.
- To incorporate creating awareness about energy conservation and efficiency aspects into the programme.
- To associate more and more women and retired employees of utilities into the programme, at grassroots.
To nurture and develop nodal organisations at every district level and build their capacities to serve as resource centre on these issues for all grassroots (block/village level) organisations of the district.