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Freedom from BSES

August 16, 2005 11:34 IST

On India's 58th anniversary of independence, what can one really ask for, apart from the usual 8 per cent growth, zero poverty, and so on? Two wishes come to mind immediately.

The first is freedom from Sonia Gandhi's National Advisory Council, which is all set to increase our tax burden by anywhere between a third and half.

When it is full-blown, the rural employment guarantee programme will cost around Rs 150,000 crore (Rs 1500 billion), and the pension scheme for the unorganised sector another Rs 35,000 crore (Rs 350 billion).

Given that the projected tax collections this year are Rs 370,000 crore {(Rs 3700 billion) of which the Centre will retain around Rs 275,000 crore (Rs 2750 billion)}, the only alternative then is to raise our taxes substantially.

The second independence hope, though strictly from the point of view of someone who lives in the capital, is freedom from the Anil Ambani-controlled BSES.

It's not as if the erstwhile DVB was a paragon of virtue; it's just that BSES has taken forever to get its act together -- if BSES had been able to lower its transmission and distribution losses to around 33 per cent, as compared to around 40 projected for this year, the money it would earn from lower losses would make up for the revenue it got from the recent tariff hike.

To put the task in perspective, the NDMC area in Delhi has a T&D loss level of 16 per cent, Mumbai has 11, Ahmedabad 14, and Surat 15.

The other serious issue, of course, is BSES' billing, with much of Delhi accusing the company of installing faulty meters -- interestingly, this is exactly the problem with the other Anil Ambani-controlled company Reliance Infocomm, though unlike in the case of Infocomm, where angry users can always migrate to an Airtel or a Hutch, Delhi's electricity customers have no such option since the government mandated a monopoly for BSES and the Tata-owned NDPL in different parts of Delhi.

In BSES' favour, though, it must be said the laboratory that is mandated to check meters, the CPRI, has said they are fine.

You may not, like me, believe the reports, but that's the way it is. A month ago, I received a bill of Rs 5,210 for one of the meters in my house, and this was followed by one for Rs 10,150 the next month.

A while prior to that, I got a bill for Rs 38,758 for another meter in the house, for the floor on which just my mother stays. Bills like this, as they say, concentrate the mind, so I did two things.

First, I complained to the BSES PR department, which was very helpful, both on this occasion as well as on previous ones. Some months ago, when I got a disconnection notice stuck on my door for non-payment, despite the fact the bank records showed BSES had encashed the cheque, the helpful PR department ensured my lights weren't cut off after I faxed it the relevant papers.

This time around, it appears there was a meter-reading error on the Rs 38,758 bill, and, as for the Rs 10,150 one, the payment of Rs 5,210 for the previous month had been made late and so had not registered on the BSES computer. I guess this is as good an ad as any for everyone to queue up to become a journalist -- you get your rights!

But even then, a bill for Rs 5,000 or thereabouts is excessive considering there's no one in the house for half the day and the air conditioner's hardly used on one floor. So, the second thing I did was to put all the bills on an excel sheet.

For one meter, I paid an average of Rs 3,600 per month in 2004 and for the other it was Rs 1,450 per month, partly due to the fact that I got credits of Rs 8,200 in the beginning of the year, due to excess billing in 2003. This year, it's about Rs 2,700 (if I exclude the Rs 38,758 bill) and Rs 2,400 (again, excluding the incorrect billing), respectively.

Clearly this goes to show just how arbitrary the billing is. When I did a calculation of the equipment we use, consulted the units-per-device usage chart at the back of the bill, I felt my monthly bill should be a third lower than the bills received. So, I complained again, and the PR department sent people to test the meter. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the meters were found to be OK.

An equally interesting statistic is provided by Ravinder Singh, who's filed a PIL on the meter issue. He's compared the annual usage by residents of Mumbai in BSES areas with those in Delhi, and he finds that, on average, a Delhi BSES consumer uses up to 8,235 units a year, as compared to 3,356 for BSES Mumbai customers -- even if you account for Delhi being hotter and a greater need for ACs, I wonder if this explains the huge difference.

Given how lead-footed the principal opposition party is, and its inability to change things, though, I suspect I'll be renewing these wishes next year as well.
Sunil Jain