Power man

The fate of Delhi's power supply and the fortunes of its provider BSES have been revived by Chairman Lalit Jalan

The Delhi state government's move in 2002 to dismantle the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) and hand over the power distribution business to private players was controversial, with the political opposition calling it a sell-out. Adding to the atmosphere of distrust was the widespread scepticism among consumers about the efficacy of the privatisation cure. The decision looked like a big gamble by the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government in the state, given that there were reports of widespread power theft, corruption and collusion in DVB. The political costs would be high for the ruling party if the experiment failed, warned sceptics.

But now, it is the Delhi government that is having the last laugh. And what apparently helped Bombay Suburban Electric Supplier (BSES) achieve the seemingly unachievable goal of reviving Delhi's messy power distribution was a corporate vision to establish itself as a world-class service provider, says Jalan.

When BSES took control of the power distribution circles in June 2002, the network was in a dilapidated state. Blackouts were routine and there was no such thing as customer care. Rather, the utility's outdated accounting and billing system was a nightmare for customers who had to wait in queues for hours to pay their bills. DVB's finances too were in a mess.

However, since then, BSES has effectively used cutting-edge technologies like Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Regulatory Impact Systems (RIS) to improve the quality and reliability of power supply in its distribution circles. SCADA enables online monitoring of the distribution network system on a real time basis. BSES also uses GIS to pinpoint faults and alert its field staff to ensure quick restoration of power supply. These interventions have helped BSES cut costs while improving power supply.

The company's human resource management has also helped it get the most out of its staff. For example, there are just six personnel in BSES' SCADA centre in Kalkaji supervising power distribution across the entire network. BSES has spent money and effort on re-skilling and retraining the staff
it inherited from DVB so that their contributions are more effective. The management has prioritised the placing of the right people in the right places and that has paid good dividends. 

The Tata Power-controlled North Delhi Power Limited(NDPL) is also managing power distribution in Delhi. However, BSES has been more successful than NDPL in bringing down load-shedding, according to the findings of a survey undertaken by the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission in 2007 with the help of Taylor Nelson Stores (TNS) India.

Encouraged by the successful experiment in Delhi, policy-makers have already started making a case for reform of power distribution sectors in other states. The argument is simple: if privatisation can work in Delhi, it can work in other states. Major power consuming states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra have approached BSES for advice on managing their own power distribution utilities.

Jalan has become a beacon for many states balking at power distribution reforms for fear of political backlash. However, the man himself is not content with his extraordinary achievements. Nor is he distracted by the media spotlight. Instead of pausing to savour his success, Jalan has set about fixing new targets for power loss reductions in Delhi.