ASEB: For and at the Cost of Consumers

In the meantime 18 months have passed and people are still experiencing tough times, much to their chagrin, with unscheduled load-shedding harassing the public and even causing extensive damage to their household electrical gadgets. Well, the step in regard to the ASEB was, of course, taken as part of the reform measures and strongly felt indispensable for the organization. There was also an anticipation as to a meaningful and result-oriented change in its style of functioning. But due to sheer inefficiency on the part of a few senior officials of the Board , it has been a sorry state of affairs. If we take a look at the annual accounts of the ASEB for the year ending March 31, 2004, we find that the Board projected a cumulative loss of Rs 655.47 crore in its revenue account. During the year, the Board had earned Rs 841.70 crore as total revenue against a sale of 2098.59 MU power. This quantum, however, was shown against the total power purchased for 2616.604 MU during the year and after deducting 36.29 percent of transmission and distribution losses. It is rather amusing to find notes attached there: that the total sum of sundry debtors (the total receivables against sale of power) exhibited in the accounts reflected an excess of Rs 269.30 crore from the figures as recorded in the consumers ledgers that are maintained at different ‘‘energy-charges’’ collecting offices across the State. This means that a total sum (for sundry debtors) for Rs 641.59 crore as shown in the accounts is inclusive of the above excess amount. The matter is indeed intriguing! This has indicated that the management takes the issues relating to recovery of its trade dues very nonchalantly without bothering to make any kind of reconciliation with the records, and to be precise and accountable about its actual debtors in the market. As a result, it is obvious that the accounts that are being compiled every year do not exhibit a correct state of the business, and quite naturally the inevitable losses are to be shouldered and shared by the common people of the State on paying higher tariff for electricity every month. This is not a single instance — the Board is also found to be reluctant to deal adequately with its burning problems like checking corruption that is rampant in every sphere of its transactions, and initiating measures to check the drainage of its revenue. It rather appears that an all-out effort is always prevalent among its accounts and commercial executives to make good of such losses by serving fictitious energy bills to the consumers, showing false sale of power to them as and when it is possible and putting a veil on their incompetence and inefficiencies.
Ironically, the Board had appointed a person in the capacity of Member, Finance, who is continuing on deputation for over five years and performing his duties, though he is ignorant of the Board’s prescribed provisions of supply of energy and its business procedures! The officer has totally failed to visualize the problems that are still plaguing the Board. It was due to his lack of ingenuity and proper administration that no business decisions to streamline the functioning of the Board could be expected. He is a full-time member and one of the senior bureaucrats in the Board’s secretariat. He is expected, under any circumstances, to be articulate in his approach and to devise adequate policies on which the organization as a whole could have a better financial control by reducing corruption and misuse of public money. Also, he should exercise requisite authority by overseeing and examining from time to time the activities of the consultant firms that are at present working at the instance of ADB for implementing the latter’s various recommendations for restructuring of methods (which they made before releasing the fund) in the new entities in letter and spirit so as to plug the bottlenecks that are responsible for decadence of the ASEB. Unfortunately, no fruitful feedback in that direction from the desk of the Member, Finance and the Chief Accounts Officer could be made available as yet. The need of the hour is to appoint experienced professional accountant as the head of the accounts of the organization who can assess the financial health with radical ideas, draw out action plan to eradicate corruption and maltreatment of resources, and rescue the ASEB from the present state. It is high time the State Government considered the overall aspects and refrain from appointing the top officials under political considerations in the interest of its economy. Appointments under political interference do no justice to the industry. The consultancy services, as requisitioned from M/S Price Water House and Coopers and SMEC Pvt Ltd, have also found their task very easy and doing their chores on selective principles at a snail’s pace. The Member, Finance unfortunately finds little time to work on that direction. Instead, he, as it appears from his style of functioning, devotes much of his time in executing the functions that are supposed to be generally looked upon by the CAO and CM(CF). There are apprehensions as to the issue of allocating funds for various expenses and other offices. The officer is also found to have scant regard to the limitations of yearly budget estimates of his office, and sometimes orders for the payment according to his own whims even if the yearly allocation to the related category is exhausted.
Similarly, a CAO has been appointed in the ASEB who has no previous experience to hold such a top post in any of the large industrial units, but one can see from the officer’s actions that there is no time for constructive activities. The fact remains is the officer has miserably failed to make herself fully conversant with the accounts-related matters, and which needs attention of a serious officer. As a result, even after five years of the appointment in the board, the officer finds it very disturbing and difficult to handle accounts, and always makes strange decisions. Moreover, the officer’s way of maintaining public relation has succeeded in keeping everybody at bay. The employees are no longer interested to work, and there is hardly any work ethics. So these are the attitudes, aptitudes and qualities of the important accounts executives in the power sector, who have no vision, no plan and, more importantly, who are ignorant as to the various rules and procedures, taxation etc for which the Board is incurring huge losses in its business constantly, and running by shifting its liabilities to be borne by the consumers of electricity in the State.
None of them have ever been found committed by their action to take any distinctive steps towards creating a mechanism which can exhibit a true state of affairs in the annual statement of accounts, and maintaining a balanced and needful expenditure in proportion to the net income of the Board.
The appointment of such inexperienced persons in a top posts must, therefore, be stopped immediately rather than jeopardizing the functioning of the Board. Only one accounts personnel can very well compile and prepare the accounts of the office if he is provided with necessary equipments. In the matter of preparing the annual statement of accounts, a suitable chartered accountants’ firm may be engaged to ascertain the true financial status of the organization.
To summarize, it can be said that business acumen, integrity and honesty are very essential for the officers in the ASEB in order to accomplish the massive task of supervising the transition process of an entity which was so long carrying out its activities as an autonomous body. The environment of a public limited company has been found to be awfully lacking in the senior officers who are now directly or indirectly engaged in the ASEB’s restructuring process. If the present state of affairs continues, the State will soon face an acute power crisis. In fact, there are already signs of it.

-Aswini Sharma (The Sentinel,29.04.06)