The Andhra Pradesh government has ordered an independent survey of agricultural pump sets in the state in an attempt to identify unauthorized users and, through this, improve the distribution efficiency of its electricity utility.
The state will continue providing free power to farmers, but the survey will help it ascertain that the beneficiaries are indeed farmers. The move will also help the state government regulate its power subsidy to ensure that this doesn’t spiral out of control. To discourage power theft, the state government will also begin replacing the existing low voltage network in rural areas with a high voltage distribution system, or HVDS (which makes any attempt to steal power dangerous).
At present, energy losses arising from supply to farmers account for a fourth of total losses in Andhra Pradesh. And because agricultural supply (of power) is unmetered, most utilities write off other transmission and distribution losses as agricultural consumption; this lowers the distribution losses they report and makes them look more efficient than they are.
“The State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) has advised us to organize a third-party survey on unauthorized agricultural pump sets in the state so as to ascertain the burden on the system,” said Rachel Chatterjee, chairperson and managing director, Andhra Pradesh Transmission Commission (AP Transco),adding that the survey will be carried out in the coming agricultural season.
The last such survey was conducted by the state in 2002-03. Since then, the number of pump sets, commonly used by farmers to draw water from the local irrigation system for their fields, is likely to have gone up, especially because of the government’s decision regarding the supply of free power to farmers (the ruling Congress party in the state came to power in 2004 and this was one promise in its election manifesto).
The survey would help Andhra Pradesh control the supply of subsidized power, said Anjan Ghosh, the head of corporate sector ratings at credit rating firm Icra. “It is critically important for a state providing free power to agriculture,” he added.
A recent report submitted by a committee of the Union power ministry, the Eleventh Plan (2007-12) working group, recommended compulsory metering of all agricultural connections to understand how much power was being given to farmers free or at reduced rates. Like Andhra Pradesh, several other states offer free power to farmers, a populist move targeted at garnering votes.
According to AP Transco, there are around 25 lakh authorized agricultural pump sets in the state. Officials of the state government who did not wish to be identified said power distribution companies had identified around 300,000 unauthorized ones on the basis of a study done by the Indian Statistical Institute.
The survey to be commissioned by AP Transco could turn up more, but “it is a huge exercise and can be checked only during the rabi and kharif season (the two crop growing seasons in India),” said Chatterjee.
Meanwhile, the state government is hopeful that it can also cut losses to 10% (of power generated) from 25% by implementing the HVDS system across rural areas. The high voltage of the electricity, say officials, discourages theft and is best suited to meet the scattered low-density loads that are common in rural areas.