On illegal coal mining & MeECL issue
As concerned citizens we are all anxious on the problems besetting the state one after another and the coal mine disaster had added another item in the cup of miseries of the state. People of all ages and vocations have aired their opinions, some critical of Government policy while some have offered their considered suggestions. We wish that more suggestions would come to mitigate the problems faced by the state. The burning questions at present filling the newspaper columns are the illegal coal mining and the MeECL imbroglio. The newspaper report of June 7 last, that mounds of fresh coal lined the road to Umpleng mine is evidence enough that coal is mined illegally. The normal practice in government is to seize such illegal materials, be they smuggled items, illegal drugs etc. What can be sold is auctioned off and money goes into the state exchequer. This is the easiest thing for the government to do.
Ever since the NGT banned coal mining, it may be assumed that all existing over ground coal is illegal coal. Govt can seize and sell/auction it. With modern technology using arial photography and drones it will not be difficult to locate all such illegal coal in the state. With the money earned from this auctioned coal, government can bail out the debt-ridden MeECL. There are complaints about the proliferation of coke factories all over the state which have affected peoples’ health and destroyed the environment. These factories no doubt depend on illegal coal. With no coal available these factories will vanish on their own. This action which I believe is evidence enough and legal will be like killing three birds with one stone. Coming back to the MeECL a thorough study is needed to put the corporation on a self-sustaining course.
Distribution franchisee – Why the need?
Availability of reliable and affordable electricity supply is the most significant infrastructure needed for economic growth and social welfare of a State and a nation. The viability of the power sector depends on the financial health and operational efficiency of the power distribution companies (discoms). In India, however, the discoms of a majority of the States are burdened with heavy losses due to purchase of power. These losses coupled with operational inefficiencies start to cripple the functioning of not just the discoms but the power department itself. This is when Distribution Franchisees come into play. Distribution Franchisees are considered to be an extended arm of a distribution company and help in the restructuring process. There have been several studies on the role of private players on management and operation of discoms.
However, there is a dearth of understanding of the impact of a Distribution Franchisee’s performance on the respective utility. The ‘Electricity Act 2003’ defines ‘franchisee’ as “a person authorized by a distribution licensee to distribute electricity or by a supply license to supply electricity on its behalf in a particular area, within his area of distribution or supply”. The functioning of the franchisee is regulated by a mutual agreement signed by both parties – discoms and franchisee.
What many fail to understand is that the franchise model of electricity distribution enables the participation of private players in the electricity distribution sector without the need of transferring ownership. This means that private sectors will only come in to extend help and not take over ownership of the discom. Distribution Franchisees provide opportunities to PSUs to bring in efficiency in the discoms by ensuring revenue to the distribution companies (discoms) and at the same time reducing their workload.
In the power distribution sector, a successful example of the effectiveness the distribution franchise is of Torrent Power as a Distribution Franchisee in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra which was able to generate interest due to its ability to reduce AT&C losses. Many such DF models are coming up in various parts of India and these franchisees have taken up several steps to bring in reforms to improve distribution operation and minimize AT&C losses, developing ERPs for billing, improvement of billing efficiency and so on.
Coming back to our State, over the last few years, the MeECL has been incurring huge losses coupled with debts that have accumulated over time. The MeECL in itself is burdened with loans and debts and is in no position to support itself any further. There have been protests from different sections and organization questioning the need to bring in a Distribution Franchisee. The cash-strapped MeECL is in no position to bail itself out and the State Government cannot take the entire burden of loan on itself. For this very reason, the State Government has decided to explore the need for Distribution Franchisees.
Oftentimes we have turned a blind eye to the embedded problems and have pointed our fingers at the Power Department and the Power Minister, but we fail to see that some decisions are well beyond his mandate. The decision to hand over a contract to the Distribution Franchisees did not go down too well with him or the Department, as the decision was solely that of the Finance Department which is in no position to bail out the financially burdened MeECL. Moreover, any attempt to inject funds into the MeECL would become an additional burden for the Finance Department – a risk that could not have been taken. It is therefore wrong give a dog a bad name and hang him.
We can only be positive that the reforms being brought in to help the MeECL will release it from the burdens and clutches of the past. As educated citizens, let us not get carried away by the misinformation campaign and misinterpretations that are swirling around but also try to keep ourselves informed of the facts. It is important for all to be practical, give suggestions and seek answers rather than to just blame and point fingers at different individuals unnecessarily.
Shillong – 2
On Hek missing his colleague
It is very unfortunate to know that the South Shillong MLA Sanbor Shullai, has not made any public appearance for sometimes now as per Health Minister and BJP leader AL Hek’s statement (ST June 3, 2021). Perhaps he is missing in action or it could be that the public of Shillong South Constituency are all well to do and are therefore not in need of any assistance as the people of Pynthorumkhrah do.
In this connection, Mr A L Hek should not only ‘wish and pray’, but do something to find out the whereabouts of the concerned BJP MLA.
Shillong – 4