The World Customers' Day was observed by BESCOM in its usual ritualistic style on Saturday, the 15th March by holding a workshop on 'Customer Care', in association with Public Affairs Centre (PAC), Swabhimana, Consumer Advocacy, and Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC). Of the audience of a 100 odd people, only some 30 were members of Civil Society groups (RWA's, etc), the rest comprising mostly of BESCOM officials. Seeing this, the chief guest, Dr Samuel Paul, Chairman, PAC, remarked that the poor turn out was perhaps an indication of the high level of satisfaction with BESCOM services.
I wish to submit here that such statements by people of the stature of Dr Paul tend to convey a totally wrong picture compared to the actual position obtaining on the ground. Granted that the services may have improved compared to what it was a few years ago. But, Bangalore today produces goods and provides services of the highest quality to its clientele right across the globe. For such a city, the interruption-ridden service of BESCOM is nowhere near good enough. And, it is not as if better level of service is not possible in the Indian context, or anything like that. Cities such as Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat, Kolkata, Greater Noida, enjoy far better quality of power supply. This is evidenced by the fact that, while Bangalore is currently a Rs 1500 cr market for gensets, inverters, converters, batteries, emergency lamps, candles, match-sticks, and what have you, these products have a marginal presence, if at all, in the cities listed. And, now, New Delhi is all set to join them. The reason for the same is also not too far to seek - while Bangalore is served by the government-owned BESCOM, all the other cities are served by companies in the private sector. Need one elaborate further?
The apologists would immediately go on to talk about BESCOM's social responsibility of having to cater to the needs of the rural sector. But, then is it doing any better than its counterparts in the other states in this aspect? The records do not show anything like that, either. In effect, whereas in Karnataka, the people in both the cities as well as in the rural areas have to suffer the incapacity of the government agency, people in cities like Mumbai get the benefit of quality power supplied by private sector companies even as their rural brethren may not be in such a privileged position. Perhaps that is the idea of social justice of Karnataka politicos! But, in today's competitive world, can a city afford this?
Ironically, however, in Karnataka itself, there has existed from long an excellent model for sustainable rural power distribution in the form of the Hukeri Co-op Society in Belgaum district. The Society buys power in bulk at high voltage from the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation (KPTCL), arranges its distribution, collects money, and remits it to KPTCL on time, thus ensuring quality power supply from them, and, in the process, keeping everyone including the many farmer members totally happy. Where this model may not be feasible, particularly in geographically isolated communities, stand alone solar systems are a far more sensible option, than running kilometers of transmission lines. Very clearly, therefore, the rural sector load has been pooled in by BESCOM only to provide a convenient scapegoat to mask its poor planning and management.
Coming back to the workshop - now, if people do not turn up in sufficient numbers at such meetings, it is not because they are satisfied with the services, it is plainly because of the futility of complaining to a government agency. Those who can afford have made alternate arrangements, and those that can't are any way voiceless. One would have thought organizations like PAC, Swabhimana, Consumer Advocacy, and even the KERC would bother to speak up for the voiceless.
PS: The above is the text of a posting titled 'customer-care-less' made on 20th March, '08 on my blog http://karnataka-power-mu.... Since it brings out all aspects of the matter, I chose to retain it as it is.
Related reading: http://bangalore.praja.in...