Plagued by an acute power shortage of around 4,500-5,000MW this summer, Maharashtra—the country’s most industrialized state—is considering reviving a scheme that aims to encourage rural consumers to reduce their power consumption in the peak hours of demand, typically between 9am and 6pm, according to a senior executive of the state’s power utility who did not wish to be identified.
The earlier attempt by the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd (MSEDCL) had enabled the state to save up to 1,000MW in the initial months after the scheme was launched. Over a year and half though, the savings plummeted an d the utility discontinued the scheme in early 2007.
The scheme promises villages uninterrupted power supply for 20 hours a day in return for reducing consumption during peak hours to one-fifth of the normal consumption. People in rural areas consume 55-60% of the total of around 12,000MW of electricity supplied in the state.
Under the scheme, people in villages agree to: not using unauthorized electrical equipment, stopping power theft, and running their agricultural pump sets only between 5pm and 5am. Nearly 5,500 of the 41,000 villages across Maharashtra initially signed up for the programme.
“Conceptually, it is a good scheme. The issue was with implementation and monitoring. Initially, the villages adhered to the arrangement, but later on they stopped,” said Ajay Bhushan Pandey, managing director, MSEDCL. The villages agreed because they were reeling from power cuts of almost 15 hours a day.
“We found that the consumption was bought down only to 60-70% of the normal, a year-and-a-half into implementation. Moreover, villages in the rest of the state, which were facing a load shedding of nearly 15 hours, began complaining,” Pandey said.
Not everyone agrees with Pandey’s assessment. “It is quite premature on the part of MSEDCL to discredit the villagers. What is more questionable is that there has been no independent audit,” of the scheme, said Nikhit Abhyankar, research associate of Prayas, a Pune-based non-profit research group working on policy analysis and advocacy for public interest in the power sector.