“IPDS is a much more holistic programme”: Interview with Radhika Jha, Executive Director, IPDS, Power Finance Corporation

Interview with Radhika Jha, Executive Director, IPDS, Power Finance Corporation

What have been the key achievements under the IPDS so far?

We have sanctioned projects worth Rs 258.48 billion in 3,597 urban towns across 526 circles in the country. These are network strengthening projects, which entail the augmentation of substations and lines as well as metering and solar rooftop components. So far, projects have been awarded in around 120 towns, while in the remaining towns the NITs are under process or under award. By March 2017, work will begin in all the towns. Underground cabling work is already under implementation in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Work has also started in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Gujarat and Manipur. We have disbursed funds worth around Rs 15 billion so far.

How is the IPDS different from its predecessor programme, the R-APDRP?

The IPDS is a much more holistic programme with a higher grant allocation for states. Under the R-APDRP, which had two components, Part A for IT and Part B for system strengthening, the processes were slightly more complicated and backloaded. Under the IPDS, the central government provides 60 per cent grant for all states and 90 per cent grant for special category states. Thus, this programme provides huge financial support in the form of grants. This shows the government’s commitment to provide better power to citizens. Further, while the R-APDRP was restricted to select urban towns in the country, depending on the population, the IPDS has been extended to all 4,041 urban towns in the country.

What has been the response of the states towards the programme?

The response has been very good across the country. The states are very excited and positive towards the programme.

What strategy is being implemented for IT enablement for the additional 2,500 towns that have been included under the IPDS?

A total of 1,405 towns were made IT-enabled under the erstwhile R-APDRP, hence, 20 data centres and 45 customer care centres have already been established across the country. However, the remaining urban towns are yet to be covered. To IT-enable the entire country, only incremental expenditure and augmentation of existing infrastructure is required. IT is a huge diagnostic tool for discoms to carry out feeder monitoring and take administrative measures to curtail their aggregate technical and commercial losses. Detailed project reports for IT enablement of these additional towns have already been submitted by around 10 states. Following approval, work will be bid out and is expected to be completed in a short time span of 1-1.5 years. No new data centres are being established as we are leveraging what was built under the R-APDRP, augmenting it and extending it to an additional 2,500 towns.

What is the plan for feeder monitoring?

There are around 150,000 feeders across the country, of which 44,000 are urban feeders. In the 1,405 IT-enabled towns, there are around 31,000-32,000 feeders, of which a significant 28,612 feeders are now online (as of January 2017) including nearly 23,251 feeders that are live and transacting on a monthly basis. For the first time, an online feeder monitoring system has been put in place where data from all states comes online to a national power portal, which shows feeder-wise AT&C losses, and feeder-wise SAIFI (System Average Interruption Frequency Index) and SAIDI (System Average Interruption Duration Index). The utility can use this data to take measures to reduce AT&C losses and improve power reliability, thus enhancing its operational and financial performance.

What have been the key challenges in the scheme’s implementation so far?

The challenges have been multifarious and integrating the vast information from different platforms on one platform is key among these. Further, every state is unique, whether it is feeder monitoring or IT enablement of the town, every state has a different architecture. Hence, the difficult task of a national-level programme is to understand the readiness and capability of the states and then assist them in achieving the objectives under the scheme. Besides, there are implementation challenges in terms of differences between planning and execution. To this end, we are working with the states to ensure that the guidelines devised are practical for implementation.

What are the proposed steps and what will be your focus areas in the short to medium term?

The next step will be to fast-track the award of IPDS projects across the country and then encourage the states to create a monitoring mechanism. As a result, the pace of implementation will increase and the programme could be implemented in the 24-month time-span as envisaged. Also, since the R-APDRP has been subsumed under the IPDS, the closure of all erstwhile R-APDRP projects will be needed. We are trying to connect urban consumers on the IT platform and the voice call platform through the URJA app and “1912” toll-free number, respectively, so that the benefits of system strengthening and IT enablement can reach the people. Rigorous monitoring and collaboration with the states will be essential to ensure quality implementation going forward.