Workshop on Regulatory Reforms in the Power Sector: Role of Consumers

The common consumer is willing to pay a higher price for electricity, if he is given a regular and good quality supply.

These thoughts were expressed as recommendations of a two day workshop on “Regulatory reforms in power sector and role of consumers” organised by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), Jaipur, held on 27th and 28th September. An overwhelming number of 250 representatives of rural consumer groups from all over the state of Rajasthan participated in it.

The workshop was inaugurated by Mr P.N. Bhandari, Chairman, Rajasthan Electricity Transmission Corporation LTD (RETC), while Justice S. Dwivedi, Chairman, Madhya Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission, Bhopal delivered the keynote address.

“Until and unless there is any change in our thinking, Regulatory Commissions will not be successful even if several such bodies are established. They have to function independently and without any political interference”, said Dwivedi. He was referring to the problems of governance and that both politicians as well as bureaucrats are finding it difficult to cope with the new regulatory regime.

Complimenting CUTS for organising the workshop, he added: “A movement should be started at the rural level for educating consumers. Consumers also have responsibilities, such as checking the thefts.”

Mr Bhandari reeled out statistics about the power scenario in the country: the installed capacity in the country is far short of the growing demand, while resources are limited. Hence we need to invite the private sector to invest, which can assure good quality supply to consumers, agriculture and the industry.

Others who spoke at the workshop included the former Chairman of Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission, Mr S.C.Mahalik and their public affairs officer: Ms Purabi Das. Their participation was extremely beneficial to the participants, as they shared their rich experiences. Orissa is the first state in India to have established the regulatory commission and privatised electricity distribution. Consumer activist, Mr Saumya Tripathi of Bhubaneswar, Orissa too shared his views from the ‘trenches’.

“Regulatory commissions act like a civil court, which ensures proper coordination among political, social and economic factors, so that an integrated approach can be adopted to ensure proper environment for the electricity sector,” noted Mahalik in his address. He said that the process of public hearings adopted by the OERC in its working style helped to create the right atmosphere for reforms.

“Unfortunately the super cyclone harmed the existing networks, which the private distribution companies could not repair in time. The losses were also very large. This has caused some amount of resentment among consumers”, Mahalik added.

“We should get out of the subsidy syndrome, as ultimately it is the consumers who pay for it through indirect means”, said Mr Prabhat Dayal, Secretary of Rajasthan Electricity Regulatory Commission. He added that there are supply problems due to demand being higher than supply, and therefore there is always a hue and cry.

Dayal informed the participants that it is the role of the RERC to determine proper tariffs for future and that consumer groups will have a role to play. They can petition the Commission for a proper hearing on the proposals of the electricity companies.

In the overall the workshop was very interactive with activists seeking clarifications and voicing their grievances over the power supply situation. Indeed, it was realised by all that real-cost pricing is essential, if they are to get sustained power supply at consistent quality.

Several recommendations were adopted by the workshop, of which the critical ones are listed out below:

  • There should be mandatory consultations in regulatory commissions with consumer representatives on tariff issues and consumer problems.
  • It should be the responsibility of the electricity companies to clarify all the rules, regulations, working style, facilities to consumers and to generate the necessary awareness.
  • There should be a system for public hearing of consumer problems.
  • A watchdog committee of consumer organisations should be set up at each level to check wastage and theft in transmission and distribution of electricity.
  • A cess should be levied in electricity bills, to be deposited in a consumer representation fund to be regulated by an independent agency. This fund should be used for capacity building and resourcing of consumer organisations to enable them participate in the reforms process.

In the closing session, the participants criticised the absence of the Chairman and Members of the Rajasthan Electricity Regulatory Commission from participating in the workshop. “After all these people are responsible for power sector reforms in Rajasthan and their presence would have benefited the participants, and more so, themselves”, said CUTS Secretary General, Mr Pradeep S Mehta, in proposing a vote of thanks.