Policy Wise: India’s Power Sector

True empowerment of the electricity consumer

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SERC

Mains level : Paper 3- The Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020

The article examines the various provisions of the Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020 and analyses whether or not these Rules will empower the consumers. 

Empowering electricity consumers

  • The Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020 was promulgated in December to deal with the problems faced by the consumers.
  • The enactment of consumer-centric rules does spark public debate that brings the rights of consumers to the fore.
  • the Rules lay an emphasis on national minimum standards for the performance parameters of DISCOMs. without urban-rural distinction.
  • They also reiterate the need for automatically compensating consumers.

Let’s analyse the changes introduced by the new Rule and issues with them

Supply quality issue

  • Many States have not been able to provide quality supply, especially to rural and small electricity consumers.
  • Provisions similar to made in the new Rule already exist in the Standards of Performance (SoP) regulations of various State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs).
  • It is not because of a lack of rules or regulations that quality supply is not provided; rather, it is on account of a lack of accountability systems to enforce them.
  • Unfortunately, neither these rules nor past efforts address these accountability concerns.
  • Guarantee of round the clock supply is a provision that the Rules emphasise, which might be missing in State regulations.
  • It is difficult to enforce since the availability of power supply is inadequately monitored even at 11 kV feeders, let alone at the consumer location.
  • This highlights not only the need for implementation of existing provisions in letter and spirit but also amending them with strong accountability provisions.

Weakening of existing provision

  • The Rules, in few cases, dilute progressive mechanisms that exist in State regulations.
  • For example, the Rules say that faulty meters should be tested within 30 days of receipt of a complaint.
  • Compared to this, regulations t in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh, respectively, say that such testing needs to be conducted within seven days.
  • A similar observation can be drawn from the suggested composition of the Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum. 
  •  The Rules say that the forum — constituted to remedy complaints against DISCOMs should be headed by a senior officer of the company.
  • This is a regressive provision that would reduce the number of cases that are decided in favour of consumers.

Lack of clarity on net-metering

  • The Rules guarantee net metering for a solar rooftop unit less than 10 kW.
  • However, there is no clarity if those above 10 kW can also avail net metering.
  • This could lead to a change in regulations in many States based on their own interpretations.
  •  The possible litigation that follows would be detrimental to investments in rooftop solar units, and would discourage medium and large consumers to opt for an environment-friendly, cost-effective option.

Way forward

  • SERCs should assess the SoP reports of DISCOMs and revise their regulations more frequently.
  • SERCs should organise public processes to help consumers raise their concerns.
  • DISCOMs could be directed to ensure automatic metering at least at the 11 kV feeder level, making this data available online.
  • The Forum of Regulators — a central collective of SERCs — could come up with updated model SoP regulations.
  • Central agencies have taken proactive efforts to ensure regular tariff revision.
  • They could also support independent surveys and nudge State agencies to enforce existing SoP regulations.
  • The central government could disburse funds for financial assistance programmes based on audited SoP reports.

Consider the question”What are the problems faced by the electricity consumers in India? Will the Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020 help consumers to deal with the existing issues?”

Conclusion

The governments, DISCOMs and regulators need to work jointly and demonstrate the commitment and the will power to implement existing regulations. It is not yet late to recognise this and initiate concerted efforts to truly empower consumers.

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