HYDERABAD: Few days of continuous monsoon rains have once again completely exposed the fragility of the Hyderabad Electric Supply Company’s (Hesco) power supply network, causing great inconvenience to the power utility’s domestic and commercial consumers alike.

It is not for the first time that Hesco has failed its consumers in rainy season despite its oft-repeated claims that it has carried out maintenance work before rain.

Though the power utility regularly receives flak from consumers for its unresponsive and arrogant attitude, which is perhaps borne of it being a federal agency, this time even some senior officers of civil administration vented their ire against the company.

The utility that continues to send ‘detection’ bills — dependent on an assessment of consumption — imposes seemingly unending power outages and unannounced load-management, while remaining least bothered about consumers’ suffering and complaints against performance.

Only recently the company has improved its ranking among power distribution companies of National Electric Power Regula­tory Autho­rity (Nepra), otherwise its performance had hit rock bottom. It used to rank 8th and 9th and now it stands fifth in the country.

Official indifference, ad hocism, shortage of staff, deliberate delays to rectify feeder faults, issuance of detection bills, incorrect meter readings, poor recoveries and increasing receivables are highlights of Hesco’s performance which put it under spotlight.

Hesco never thought twice before disconnecting power to Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) installations that led to depriving residents of Hyderabad’s three talukas of drinking water. It now avoids doing it only after Sindh High Court’s intervention.

Nepra’s Sept 2018 performance evaluation report said: “During FY 2016-17, the Nepra continued monitoring activities including data verification and found that data submitted by distribution companies is significantly fudged ... as a result of these proceedings, major distribution companies like that of Lahore, Gujran­wala, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Faisalabad were penalised”.

The report is self-explanatory to evaluate Hesco’s performance. But the utility’s spokesman insists its ranking has improved and it stands fifth now. “The company has a hotchpotch sort of arrangement. To me neither it is a fully-fledged corporate body nor is it a federal government entity. Ad hocism rules supreme here and it leaves a lot to be desired in performance,” comments a member of the board of directors of Hesco.

Hesco is governed by the companies’ ordinance. So, it has to be an efficient corporate body but given its performance indicators it is sadly not one. Except for its chief financial officer the most important positions like CEO, chief internal auditor and company secretary of BoD are filled from market.

Hesco is currently headed by an acting CEO Abdul Haq Memon. “Perfor­mance of Hesco will be much better in upcoming rains,” he assured Dawn recently.

But what consumers have been bearing with since July 29 is just painful. Hesco always lives up to its reputation of bad performance in its region that consists of two divisions — Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas and parts of Benazirabad. People in various districts in general and Hyderabad in particular had to bear with unprecedented power breakdown on July 29. Till July 31 power supply has not been fully restored and if it is restored, it remains erratic.

The 36-hour electricity breakdown led to virtual inundation of large parts of Hyderabad city, Latifabad and Qasimabad. As sewerage disposal stations of Wasa did not get electricity its management found an excuse for their inability to de-water submerged areas. Hesco chief had only this to say: “Restoration of feeders is under progress”.

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah who visited Hyderabad to take stock of situation after rains has expressed displeasure over the situation while on Wednesday army moved in to install de-watering machines and start evacuating marooned residents in Units-2 and 11 of Latifabad.

Detection bills

Unfazed, Hesco officials continue to play with people’s self-respect and dignity by issuing them with unjustified detection bills despite BoD’s strong opposition. But Hesco sticks to it.

“Detection bills are issued to cover up line losses. BoD had strongly ruled against it,” says an officer. “Even power dispatch company officers complain that field staff doesn’t take their calls to discuss faults in any feeder which ultimately delays its rectification,” says another official.

A layman or even civil administration officials have to believe Hesco’s explanation about faults in case of breakdown as none can independently verify it. When a transformer develops fault it is consumers’ headache to get it repaired. Consumers claim they pool money to get the defective transformers repaired though Hesco chief vehemently denies it.

Traders like Saleem Vohra insist it is true that shopkeepers and other area people collect money to have the PMTs repaired. “Only recently our colleague in Gari Khata sub-division paid Rs25,000 sought from him for putting oil in transformer,” adds Vohra.

Electricity meter reading is a permanent trauma for consumers every month. The readings are ‘fudged’ to meet line losses. Sources say that meter readers do not put snapshot of meter concerned on consumers’ bills.

“Officers have found that they [meter readers] type readings on calculator or put their desired readings in old meters available with them and print it on bills. Serial number of meter actually is to be printed along with reading,” says a source.

Shortage of field staff, required safety tools, vehicles etc are putting additional burden on the power utility. Hesco workers either risk their lives to work or are reluctant to work. Field staff does not get required material often available in store unless they grease palms of store officials.

So, they recover money by allowing power pilferage or indulge in wrongdoings. CBA flays shortage of staff which it says is leading cause of fatal and non-fatal accidents.

“A substantial number of feeders that feed power supply to different areas are in dilapidated state, posing serious risk not only to the system but to consumers as well. Bucket-mounted vehicles are unavailable and other tools are in short supply,” says CBA leader Azam Khan. “Workers are ‘forced’ to work for additional hours,” he remarks.

Hesco’s receivables pile up. According to an officer if bills of Rs6 billion are generated recovery stands at Rs4bn with Rs2bn ending up as receivables which “are not to be recovered”.

Officially receivables from government dep­ar­t­ments, domestic and commercial consumers stand at Rs73bn. “The ‘receivables’ is an interesting story itself. While we issue billions of rupees bills the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) deducts tax on it at a source which means tax has been deducted even without recovery of actual bills,” he says.

Hesco’s BoD chairman Aslam Uqaili explains: “Given its laws Hesco has to be a truly corporate body if it has to deliver. This system needs investment and augmentation. Ad hocism or fire-fighting in any manner won’t benefit but reforms can indeed help Hesco become an efficient service provider,” he remarks.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2019

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