Shimla | TNR
Once a gold mine of the Himachal government, the story of the state electricity board is indeed a riches to rags one. Reeling under losses/debts amounting to a massive Rs 700 crore currently, the board has had to compromise heavily on efficiency and reliability owing to its own mindless policies.
The board’s woes primarily arise from employing a battery of highly paid engineers while the field workforce has declined rapidly. At the time of the formation of the electricity board, there were only 2 chief engineers.
Today their numbers have increased to 18. Until three decades ago, there were about 4.90 lakh electricity consumers in the state while the number of field workers was more than 45,000. Today, the electrical connections have increased to 22 lakhs but the number of field staff has reduced to 18,000.
Simultaneously employment to the positions of Chief Engineer, Superintending engineer, executive engineer, assistant, and junior engineers have also increased manifold. The board’s present practice of getting work done on a contract basis has snapped its financial backbone.
Where once the electricity board handed out loans to the state government, it is tottering under the burden of its own losses today. Not surprising, since most of the work, right from making electricity bills to laying power lines is done on a contractual basis.
Heavy workload on field staff, while officers enjoy
Dozens of officers of the electricity board have been posted by the government in the SJVN, HPPTCL and other projects either on deputation or secondment.
They fail to fulfill their duties and enjoy their tenure, while the field staff is burdened by a heavy workload. Each worker looks after work which actually should have been done by four to five employees.
Due to the non-availability of new recruits for fieldwork, elderly workers on the verge of retirement are forced to climb electric poles and often meet with accidents. Service to consumers is also thus under par.
Electricity disruptions during snowfall with delayed restoration
Power line breakdowns with delayed restoration during heavy snowfalls have now become a common occurrence.
There is no end in sight to such problems, what with the number of people retiring in the board outnumbering new recruitments by more than half. Whatever recruitments are being done are all outsourced and even such employees are exploited by paying them just a nominal honorarium.
Former energy minister’s attempts halted
Former energy minister, Anil Sharma had taken the number of engineers employed with the board into account and had assured rationalization of the numbers by demanding a list of surplus engineers.
However, his attempts were halted after the list was prepared, as the government stopped him from taking action on them.
Current energy minister says…
State energy minister Sukhram Chaudhary said that initially there was just the electricity board in existence. Now, apart from the electricity board, engineers are also being appointed for Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation and Himachal Pradesh Transmission Corporation.
Engineers are also sent on deputation to SJVN Ltd (a joint venture of the government of India and Himachal Pradesh government), he said. New divisions are being set up in various places in the state and engineers need to be appointed there. Apart from engineers, even field staff is being appointed, the minister added.
Manner of deployment of engineers
At present, there are 19 Chief Engineers (CEs) in the Electricity board and 3 to 4 SEs working under each CE. Hence, there are 4 to 5 executive engineers under each SE, $ to 6 SDOs under each exin and 3 to 5 JEs under these SDOs.
Field staff will have to be recruited: Verma
Hiralal Verma, Secretary, Himachal Electricity Employees Federation has said that enough field staff would have to be recruited to ensure the smooth running of the electricity board. The creation of new non-essential posts of officers will have to be avoided, which he said was the primary cause of the board’s debt.