Prasanna Mishra

Saroj Rana comes to his small shop close to our house in BJB Nagar of Bhubaneswar from his home near Phulnakhara, driving his bike a good 12 kilometres, to run his photocopier, printer, to do some DTP jobs and sell some snacks and cold-drink bottles. The other day he opened the shop before 10 in the morning and waited in the sweltering heat for over two hours for power. Disappointed, he drove back home under the scorching sun without earning a penny. That was not a rarest of the rare occasion when his shop did not have power for hours. He suffers this torture in varying degrees on many days. So do most denizens of the Capital City of the State.

Power outages, tripping, notified and un-notified shutdowns for six to eight hours for maintenance, keep happening regularly. No plebeian in the city can say he had had uninterrupted power in his/her house for the entire day in any of the 365 days of the year.

Why is quality of power an issue with most consumers and isn’t for those who matter? It is so because those who matter hardly face the trials and tribulations which a chaotic power supply arrangement creates for the common people. They are kept happy; they get adequate power without interruptions. This feudal arrangement works. Quality of Power isn’t an issue for the regulator either. It is involved in tariff and T&D loss issues. Many reasons are cited for the chaos. Inadequate supply to an area and overdrawal by consumers of the area, lead to disruption. Conductor size is not adequately upgraded; damaged insulators aren’t replaced; transformers are poorly maintained. There is either reluctance, indifference or poor allocation of resources to keep the distribution system in shape. Most conductors are either too close to or pass through trees, leading to faster wear and tear and interruptions. Sometimes the supply gets affected by bird-hits and lightning as well.

Reaction during an unnotified power outage in Bhubaneswar

Transparency is a serious issue. The system continues to be opaque. Interruptions are not logged at the sub-stations. Distribution Company never reveals the details of outages they inflict on hapless consumers. This area is yet to engage RTI activists. The Distribution Company doesn’t come forward with suo motu revelations. Nor is government serious about this issue.

The rot shows little sign of decline. Why this primitive system survives needs a bit of explaining. Electricity is yet to get into the list of citizen’s entitlement. It continues to be perceived as a favour. That’s because the facility has been historically available to many by greasing palms, by unauthorised tapping. Most consumers, therefore, haven’t been demanding about quality and availability. Power would arrive and depart at its sweet will. If and when it came, it was hailed. This societal attitude to power has influenced the distribution company. It has preferred to be highly insensitive and unprofessional and seems to hold the view that plebeians deserve no batter.

This attitude must stop. Government has to be meaningfully consumer-friendly. The continuing tall-talk about the underground cable network has lost its credibility. Overhead LT Lines would continue but should be the conduit of adequate and uninterrupted power to every home. Both Odisha Government and the Distribution Company need to realise that electricity is a critical input for essential home gadgets like the refrigerator, water heater, air-conditioner, laptop for living and for learning. It’s critical for hundreds of shopkeepers, micro-entrepreneurs for their livelihood. A Smart City with a primitive power distribution arrangement doesn’t gel well. Has Tata Power made a difference? Most would say a loud NO.

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