The energy sector continues to be a neglected sphere. On one hand, the Nagaland state government harps on attracting investment, while seldom makes available the prerequisites.
One obvious indicator of the neglect, as far as the energy sector is concerned, has been the frequent power cuts.
Another indicator, which hardly catches the attention of the public, has been depreciating Budget allocation by the government against mounting projected requirement for maintenance and upgrades.
State Plan/Budget allocation has decreased over the past 10-plus years, even as demand grows and equipments get older and overwhelmed.
As per Department of Power, Nagaland (DoPN) insiders, Rs 9.4cr was allocated for 2019-20 against a projected requirement of Rs. 52cr. In 2016-17, it was Rs 12cr against a requirement of Rs 265cr. The figures for 2020-21 are still to be made public.
DoPN officials have accused the government of apathy, which have resulted in failing consumer demands as well as revenue targets.
The government disputes this claim, reprimanding the DoPN for under-performing despite channeling hundreds of crores annually to the energy sector.
In its defence, the DoPN maintains that the hundreds of crores released annually are non-Plan funds apportioned for purchasing power from the national grid.
In 2018-19, Nagaland spent an estimated Rs. 325cr as purchase cost, while collecting barely Rs 150cr in return (revenue) from the consumers. In 2019-20, the purchase cost was estimated at Rs 350cr. The DoPN has yet to announce the revenue collection for 2019-20 and the projection for 2020-21.
To hammer home the point, the state has lost around Rs 1480cr in unrealised electricity dues during 2003-19. The purchase cost (excluding the measly annual State Plan allocations) during this period works out to over Rs 2800cr and the revenue collected comes to around Rs 1340cr.
According to the DoPN, the government should make a distinction between Plan and non-Plan allocations— fund allocated from the State Plan are for asset upkeep, while non-Plan allocations are for power-purchase and other expenses. Requisite fund from the State Plan for maintaining a robust infrastructure and a leak-proof revenue collection system would narrow the spending-revenue gap, it claims.
It appears to be a never-ending dispute only worsening the power situation and a burgeoning spending-revenue gulf even as tariff increase without fail.
Add to it a third player— the public/consumers, a majority of whom have failed to keep their side of the bargain. The consumers are just as responsible for the 1400-plus crore losses incurred by the DoPN.
The DoPN also cannot afford to put the blame entirely on short-funding, while consistently turning a blind eye to under-billing, power theft and lazy meter-readers, who have taken a fancy to ‘remote-sensing’ (pun intended) and generating average/minimum bills without physically going door to door to take spot readings. Moreover, it cannot simply resort to hiking tariff to compensate for lost revenue.
It is a mess to which everyone, excluding a minority of honest consumers, has contributed.
Now, pre-paid mode of supply is taking root; a model imagined to right the revenue woes. It is showing results in other states. The government should commit to completing the transition at the shortest possible time and give honest consumers the fairness they deserve.
The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org