The Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) is in a financial mess as its pending arrears have increased to an all-time high of Rs 73,897 crore. The department's liabilities have also increased to Rs 45,440 crore.
These shocking details have emerged from a review meeting called by CM Uddhav Thackeray where MSEDCL made a presentation. Several senior ministers were also present in the meeting.
The MSEDCL is India's largest power supply utility with its 2.83 crore power consumers. The power department claimed that the arrears with farmers all over the state for agriculture pumps are at Rs 49,575 crore, street light arrears are at Rs 6,199 crore and water supply arrears are at Rs 2,258 core. These numbers highlight the financial crisis in Maharashtra, a state that is already under a debt of Rs 6 lakh crore.
"The state will go into darkness soon if this situation continues," a senior minister commented after the presentation, sources said.
The power department's version, particularly its data about agricultural usage of power, was contradicted by ministers during the meeting.
During their presentation, the power department claimed that agriculture consumption of electricity is 31%. According to farmer leaders, experts and even some of the ministers present during the meeting, this information is incorrect.
"We can give hundreds of proofs where farmers are not getting enough power due to load shedding. How can the power department claim that farmers are using electricity in such a large manner?," asked Dr Ajit Navale, General Secretary of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).
"Power minister Dr Nitin Raut is from Vidarbha. There are hundreds of complaints by farmers in Vidarbha regarding power supply. If this is not reflecting in the power department's presentation then it is grossly misleading," said Dr Navale.
According to sources, even Agriculture Minister Dada Bhuse and Animal Husbandry and Dairy Minister Sunil Kedar objected to this data.
"There was a survey in North Maharashtra where the power department was claiming that 100 farmers received power from one feeder. But when it was cross-checked, it came to notice that only 60 farmers were connected to that feeder. It shows the mess in power distribution," Bhuse commented during the review meeting, sources said.
Similarly, Kedar also objected to the power department's claims and said that it is hiding losses in transmission, power theft and other failures under the head of the agriculture usage.
Pratap Hogade, a senior expert in the power sector, has also disagreed with the claims of MSEDCL. "There should be a third-party audit of agriculture usage of power. This agenda to put all blame on farmers will be exposed then. According to my understanding, the agriculture usage of power won't be more than 20%," said Hogade.
Stories from power consumers about their anger over inflated electricity bills in the state show that the mess isn't solely limited to agricultural usage. Shekhar Dabholkar, a dairy farmer from Kudal, Sindhudurg received bills of Rs 1,200 with added costs for almost 6 months. When he asked MSEDCL officials to reconsider his bills, he was told that the bills would be adjusted, if higher, only when he pays them first.
Santosh Pawar, an employee with a private company in Dombivali, Thane received a bill of Rs 3400 for the month of September last year. He had to visit the local MSEDCL office four times to get it adjusted. "They asked me to pay first. One of their officials later visited my house. Finally, they adjusted my bill after two months," said Pawar.
There are countless similar stories of angry consumers who have complained about inflated bills across the state.
Another part of MSEDCL's mess is about how the power supply of public water connections in villages was disconnected by the department.
Sarpanch Parishads of at least 15 districts have formally raised complaints regarding this to their respective guardian ministers. "Arrears are of Rs 2258 crore. That is not even 10% of the total. The action taken by the department to disconnect the power supply is outrageous. If this isn't resolved, we won't be allowed to enter the villages," an NCP minister commented during the meeting.