Separate feeders for homes, fields in Maharashtra

Published: Friday 29 February 2008

as part of the power sector reforms in Maharashtra, a government-owned distributor will separate feeders that service homes from those that feed agricultural pumpsets. Expected to complete over two years, the distributor claims the separation will ensure 24-hour power supply to homes in rural areas. Supply to agricultural pumpsets will be restricted to 8-10 hours at night. Most sections of society in the state agree with the separation, but there are complaints that farmers' grievances are not being addressed.

In Marathi, the land on which a village is located is called gaothan. Which is why the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company has called it the Gaothan Feeder Separation Scheme. The managing director of the company, Ajoy Mehta, outlined the need for this scheme at a conference organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Mumbai in January. The state faces a shortage of 4,000 megawatts, which results in daily power cuts--10 hours in villages, 4-5 hours in class C municipal councils, and two hours in class A municipalities. During summer, the shortfall touches 5,000 mw, he said.

"The difference between normal and peak power demand is as high as 25-30 per cent, and this curve needs to be smoothened. Feeder separation will address this problem by limiting electricity supply to agricultural pumpsets only during the night time, say midnight onwards for eight hours, when power demand is lowest. This may lead to some discomfort to farmers, but will be in the larger interest of the state," he said.

All indicators point at consumers being happy with the scheme. But the Maharashtra Rajya Irrigation Federation has complained to the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission, saying farmers are being singled out and the distribution company is not sticking to its load shedding schedule.

Power sector researchers are supportive of the farmers without condemning the plan. "Feeder separation is a good measure if we consider shortages, load management, the low tariff for agricultural connections, the need for proper energy accounting and equity," said Shantanu Dixit of the Prayas energy group, an ngo in Pune that is researching power sector reforms. "But the hours of supply to agricultural feeders need to be managed better."

Gujarat was the first Indian state in 2005 to embark upon agricultural feeder separation under the Jyoti Gram Yojana scheme. Completed in 2006, this has provided electricity in 18,065 villages.

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