This refers to the statements of Union power minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Mint, 17 January.
I agree that, taking into consideration the 11th Plan programme, total power generation will match the country’s demand for electricity. Also that the generated power will be evacuated by the Power Grid Corp. and private organizations from the plants to the state power grids. But the responsibility for achieving this national mission will have to be shared by state electricity utilities. This goal can be considered achieved only when consumers are satisfied, not just about the availability of power, but of the quality?and stability of supply?and, most importantly, the quality of service. The situation is quite dismal today and the utilities are largely bankrupt.
Since the minister accepted that the priorities today are customer satisfaction and revenue generation by the state power utilities, I have a few suggestions:
(1) The state governments need to have a look at the leadership of the utilities. These bodies need competent people capable of steering them towards the achievement of this mission. They should have a tenure of up to 2012 to be able to do this, and the entire organization should be placed in mission mode.
(2) Several studies by experts indicate that around 35% of the electricity supplied to customers is not billed and 30-35% of the energy billed is not realized. All responsibility centres in the power distribution departments at all levels (front-end, middle and senior) should be made accountable for realizing the targeted revenue. It is not clear why the utilities have been unable to introduce energy audits (third-party) similar to financial audits. A large variation between the set target and revenue realized should be considered as a serious lapse, even connivance with the customers indulging in energy pilferage/theft.
I have interacted with hundreds of engineers and functional managers in several state power utilities during the last 10 years. My observation is that quite a big segment of the human resource has become a liability. The priority task is to change this liability into an asset.
(3) The utilities are operating under two sets of forces. The first set is external—political, socio-economic and technological factors. The second is internal forces that facilitate or hinder the utilities’ processes and functioning.
There is need for an overhaul of the “hard” tools of management such as management techniques, technology and systems. There is also need to review the “soft” tools such as social skills, communication skills, customer management and relationship skills, team building, human resources development and work culture. I believe there is no dearth of engineering minds in these organizations. The weakness lies in managerial minds. In particular, the mindset of personnel dealing with customers and responsible for commercial operations needs to change.
Finances should be provided to the utilities for bringing about this change in the reforms programme. The minister has rightly assured that the Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme will continue in the 11th Plan. Sometime back, the Prime Minister had spoken about the necessity of a power management board in the power ministry. That is a good idea. This board may oversee the programmes undertaken by the utilities and advise them.
It is important to realize that the mission of ending all power shortages can be achieved only if the key players—political leadership, the Union and state governments and state power utilities—take on the required responsibility and accountability.
S.C. Jain is former chief engineer, UP State Electricity Board, and deputy national director, UNDP-India Energy programmes. Comment at email@example.com