The barrage of accusations and misinformation campaign on social and mainstream media in the state against the reforms in Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL) is very concerning. The sheer political rhetoric by some opposition MLAs to score brownie points and intensify the uninformed reaction of the public is very sad for a democracy, especially when these elected representatives are aware of the issues and problems which exist in the corporation. With so much propaganda-driven news around MeECL, it is grabbing all the limelight even during the second wave of the pandemic, and therefore, it is hard to believe that this is the reaction of the public but rather suggests a powerful political lobby at play to let the state suffer for narrow political gains and interests of a few individuals keeping in mind the upcoming 2023 election.
I’m afraid that even some of our well-informed civil society organisations have jumped the gun too quickly to react to the indoctrination process engaged by some to sabotage the much-needed reforms which are crucial for MeECL’s survival and financial stability instead of being arm-twisted by central power generating companies such as NEEPCO, NTPC, etc every now and then.
As a responsible and concerned citizen, I think it is the democratic right and duty of every citizen to question the government. However, one should also suggest ways and means to improve the current system by looking at the best practices of other state governments, especially with regards to power generation, distribution and transmission in this case. Issuing unnecessary threats to the government based on limited politically driven information is not correct, just because we may not like these policies even if they are for the greater good of the corporation. This, in the future, could result in serious policy paralysis and weak decision-making, which will have unbearable consequences on the residents of Meghalaya. To be clear, I have critiqued the bad policies of the current MDA government on multiple occasions, and in no way, I’m aligned with their ideology.
Further, Meghalaya State Electricity Board (MeSEB) was converted in 2010 into four corporations with MeECL as the holding company along with MePDCL, MePGCL, and MePTCL with the intention to bring about accountability, transparency, competitiveness and reduction of losses. As per available public documents, terminal benefits are one the largest liabilities of MeECL where it gives past employees’ pension and retirement benefits which account to the tune of Rs 840 crore. From 2010 onwards, MeECL has had to pay this amount on its own with no help from the government despite multiple assurances from the then Congress government in 2010 and 2014. For the Congress party and its top leaders to come in support of MeECL today is a laughing joke.
A quick breakdown of MeECL’s income statement for easier understanding for people from non-finance backgrounds, this statement shows the revenue generated and the expenses incurred by an organisation. In the case of MeECL, it gets an average revenue of Rs 75 crore per month while the expenditure is Rs 120 crore per month resulting in a monthly loss of Rs 45 crore per month. This clearly shows that despite the best interest to convert into a Corporation in 2010, its employees still suffer from years of incompetence, negligence, and ineptitude despite the fact that electricity consumption for domestic and industrial consumers has increased by leaps and bounds in these 10 years.
The CCORMAU members who claim to represent the interest of the employees are only seen doing press conferences against any reform that will benefit the corporation. They only speak about the great things at MeECL and how all is good. If everything is fine by their definition, then why is it that in the Ministry of Power, State Distribution Utilities 2019 Report, MeECL was ranked last on the list of 41 distribution utilities in the country? Why is it that Meghalaya’s AT&C losses are at 34% which is one the worst in the country with an abysmal billing efficiency rate of 72%? Why is that MeECL is the 5th worst performer in the country for electricity transmission and distribution losses as per the RBI report of 2018?
The public was also misled regarding the ADB grant that Meghalaya received in 2020 to look into the issues above by upgrading existing substations, replacing old transmission wires and installing smart meters. People who are not aware of smart meters, they help in reducing electricity theft and AT&C losses which are currently being used all over the world in countries like the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea etc. For naysayers who think ADB fund is a loan is not true as all ADB funds are in the form of a grant and a detailed explanation of the same is available on the ADB website. Additionally, ADB also gave a similar grant to Uttar Pradesh in 2020 which is 4 times more than the grant amount our state received for UP to improve the quality and reliability of the electricity supply. Why would senior members of MeECL object to this grant money from ADB which the state has no obligation to pay back and instead suggest that the Corporation go for a bank loan with interest ranging between 10-12% including principal repayment? As a state, we are setting a dangerous trend if we don’t stop dragging reputed international agencies like ADB into such unnecessary and unscrupulous debates. ADB has also given a huge grant to the Education Department in the state for the program ‘Supporting Human Capital Development’ in which lakhs of youth are benefitting. We would run the risk of losing future international collaborations and funds in the state if we make everything political to benefit the interest of a few vested individuals.
The power theft incident at Byrnihat 33/11 KV that came to light in April 2021 this year amounting to a monthly loss of Rs 1 crore per month is difficult to reason on how this could have happened without the knowledge of top officials at MeECL. Most of us are aware of the fleet of cars that MeECL has taken on rent to ferry their employees and in my discussion, with some of the drivers, they would inadvertently accept that all the vehicles on rent belong to the employees of MeECL purchased on different names or some even in their own names. The rent of one car is between Rs 70,000 – 1,00,000 per month. Payment for rented vehicles itself is a multi-crore business in MeECL which nobody is talking about. If MeECL is paying such a huge rent for a car like Swift where the base model is at Rs 6.5 lakh why doesn’t it purchase these cars on its own which will be reflected as assets in its balance sheet? The recent revelation in various newspapers on their leader PK Shullet who was found to be involved in multiple financial irregularities for awarding contracts to his wife only proves a point of gross favouritism and stinking corruption plaguing the corporation.
Lastly, blaming the current government and the power minister won’t really help as governments come and go but what will remain is MeECL. It is high time that the employees of the Corporation behave in a responsible manner and fulfil their duties to the best of their ability instead of involving themselves in petty politics and stalling all-important reforms that will help the state and MeECL. The current status quo must be disrupted to ensure accountability, transparency, competitiveness, and reduction of AT&C losses as these were the founding principles of MeECL. State’s interest is paramount and should be above all commercial and business opportunities of a few.