Plea to bring distcos under RTI

AS reported by Staff Reporter in The Hindu on May 10, 2008

'Discrepancies' in billing, poor service irk consumers
Power companies obtain stay from court

High Court urged to dispose of cases
BHUBANESWAR: Ever since private companies took over power distribution
services following the power sector reforms in Orissa, complaints
about poor infrastructure and discrepancies in monthly bills are
piling up.

But nobody can make the service providers accountable using the Right
to Information Act as the distribution companies (distcos) have been
claiming that they do not come under purview of the revolutionary Act
and are not liable to release information.

RTI activists, union leaders in the power sector and the general
public are now demanding that the service providers be made answerable
under the Act.

When the RTI was formally adopted by the State government, the
departments of Energy and Law had in fact tried to bring power distcos
into the fold of the RTI. But the private companies sought court's
intervention and got a favourable interim order by which they kept a
safe distance from being questioned by consumers.

"The private distcos should be treated as public authority.
Sub-section (H) of Section II of the Right to Information Act 2005
clearly says non-government organisation which is substantially
financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the government
should provide information," RTI activist Biswapriya Kanungo said.

Major players

Four distribution companies such as CESU, WESCO, NESCO and SOUTHCO
(last three are managed by Reliance Energy) are in charge of
electricity supply to all corners of the State.

"But during last 15 years, no investment has been made to improve
power infrastructure in the State. More than 30 lakh consumers have
been paying monthly bills to the private companies whereas they cannot
demand quality power," Ramesh Satpathy, Secretary of the National
Institute of Indian Labour, lamented. Mr. Satpathy said after reform
these companies had automatically taken control over permanent assets
owned by State government at a subsidised rate and now they should not
shy away from their responsibilities.

Similarly, Sovan Kanungo, who had headed Committee of Independent
Experts to review impact of power sector reforms, said since private
companies were dealing with public affairs and inheritors of public
infrastructure and government had substantial stake in companies, they
should provide information to the general masses.

Keeping basic objectives of the RTI Act in view, the High Court should
expeditiously dispose of the cases pending regarding the dispute, Mr.
Kanungo hoped.