Did ADB fund smart meters project on false claim by Meghalaya govt?

SHILLONG, Sep 12: Did the Meghalaya Government misrepresent basic facts about the power scenario in the state while procuring loan of $132.8 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for Smart Meters project?
Answer to this critical question will have to be in the affirmative, if official records are any indication.
According to the official records, the ADB loan was sanctioned on the premise that the entire state was already electrified and there was a need for hand holding for making the power supply system efficient and reliable. Considering that large swathes of rural Meghalaya are still without power, it was misleading for the Meghalaya Government to say that Meghalaya is 100% electrified.
Before we delve any further let’s rewind the ADB loan saga a bit.
The ADB and the Government of India had in December 2020, signed a $132.8 million loan to strengthen and modernise the distribution network and improve the quality of power supplied to households, industries, and businesses in Meghalaya.
The signatories to the Meghalaya Power Distribution Sector Improvement Project were Additional Secretary (Fund Bank & ADB) to the Department of Economic Affairs in the Ministry of Finance, C.S. Mohapatra who signed for the Government of India and ADB India Resident Mission Country Director Takeo Konishi who signed for ADB.
According to the ADB website, that after signing the loan agreement, Mohapatra had said, “The project supports the state (Meghalaya) government’s 24×7 Power for All initiative and will help the state reduce its high technical and commercial losses through network strengthening, metering, and billing efficiency improvements.”
ADB’s Konishi while signing the MoU had said, “Technological improvements to the distribution network adapted to extreme weather, introduction of smart meters and online meter reading, billing, and collection systems will help improve operational efficiencies and financial sustainability of the state’s distribution system.”
The ADB note says, “Though Meghalaya has achieved 100% electrification, remote rural areas in the state suffer from frequent power interruptions due to overloaded distribution networks and substations that use outdated technology, resulting in high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses. The Government of India and the state government of Meghalaya embarked on a joint 24×7 Power for All Meghalaya initiative to provide uninterrupted, quality, reliable, and affordable power supply to all electricity consumers.”
Based on the aforesaid narrative, two obvious deductions that any lay person can make is that Meghalaya has neither achieved 100% electrification nor has Smart Meters project helped in providing “uninterrupted, quality, reliable” power supply to the consumers as was envisaged before making the loan available.
If the Smart Meter is declared closed by the top technocrats, then why does the state still suffer from outages and transmission failures?
Expanding further the ADB says, “The project will construct 23 substations; renovate and modernise 45 substations, including the provision of control room equipment and protection systems; install and upgrade 2,214 kilometres of distribution lines and associated facilities covering three out of the six circles in the state. Installation of smart meters will benefit about 180,000 households.”
It is any body’s guess whether or not the projected 1.80 households have seen better days after installation of smart meters. There is no official record to establish this fact. All that’s known for sure is that under the ADB loan 25,000 smart meters were supposed to have been installed. As per records, there are objections from ADB relating to 20,000 such meters as they do not conform to the sanctioned specifications.
Part of the loan is supposed to go towards helping to develop a distribution sector road map and a financial road map for the Meghalaya Power Distribution Corporation Limited (MePDCL) ostensibly to strengthen the capacity of MePDCL to operate and manage the distribution networks.
Interestingly, the ADB also says that the loan will be supplemented by a $2 million grant from ADB’s Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction that will finance renewable energy mini-grids that will improve power quality and support income generation activities, especially for women and other socially disadvantaged groups in three villages and three schools.
The $2 million (Rs 14.98 crore at current rates) grant is meant to be administered by the Meghalaya New and Renewable Energy Development Agency, located at Mawpat. This reporter spoke to the Member Secretary and Director of MNREDA, PM Sangma to find out if the grant has been disbursed and if so which are the three villages and three schools that will receive the grant.
Sangma disclosed that the money has still not been disbursed as the DoNER Ministry is also involved in the process. “Covid has caused disruptions but we might be able to get it by November this year,” Sangma hoped.
When asked as to what are the criteria used to identify the schools and villages, he said experts from the ADB team had visited and done a preliminary survey. The schools are located around the three villages and selected for the pilot project depending on what food or horticultural crops they produce.

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