The slow pace of the rollout of smart electricity meters by BEST may prove to hurt the undertaking in the long run. Of a total target of 10.5 lakh consumers, BEST has installed smart meters for only around 3 lakh since 2017. With the Finance Minister talking about eliminating monopoly in distribution companies, this tardiness could prove detrimental for BEST amid rising competition, BEST committee members feel.
Since 2017, the BEST Undertaking started replacing regular meters with smart ones that can tap every unit consumed and give more accurate data of consumption. "The administration has barely replaced 3 lakh meters with smart ones. Plus, their services to consumers need improvement," said Anil Kokil, BEST Committee member.
These smart meters have been installed only in relatively upscale societies and buildings in a few BMC wards. "The administration is very slow with replacing these old meters. At this rate, the competition will make things difficult for BEST in supplying power," said Sunil Ganacharya, BEST Committee member. " Now, with the Centre making it clear about eliminating monopoly in the distribution business, the BEST needs to up its working".
The BEST supplies around 800Mw of electricity to its 10.5 lakh consumers. However, the cables running underground are also old and work on replacement is underway.
In her budget speech, the Finance minister said that power distribution companies in India are currently monopolies, whether they are government-owned or private. A framework will be put in place to give consumers alternatives to choose from among more than one distribution company. The concept of allowing more than one distribution company to supply power for an area has been tried in a few cities including Mumbai under Open Access.
"The process isn't easy as it will need a change in the Act and various permissions are needed," said a power expert.
Another problem is the loan burden on the Undertaking, despite taking grants from the BMC in the past. Sources said that the amount of interest on the loan has surpassed Rs 700 crore while the funds taken from the civic body have gone in repaying part payment and paying of bills of Tata Power, with whom it has a power purchase agreement.