The government has proposed to levy a public lighting duty of five and eight paise per unit on power consumers in the domestic and commercial sectors, respectively. Power Minister Nilesh Cabral has written to all the civic bodies and panchayats seeking their approval for the proposal. The electricity department wants to use the money collected for taking over maintenance of streetlights. If the proposal is accepted and implemented an ordinary power consumer using 200 units a month would have to pay Rs 120 per year.
There are 5.83 lakh power consumers in the state, 4.69 lakh being domestic consumers who on an average consume 25 per cent of the power supplied. At the minimum rate the domestic consumers would be compelled to give the power department Rs 6 crore annually. The figure could come to much more as a number of power consumers draw more than 200 units per month. There are 3.47 lakh commercial and industrial users who account for consumption of 75 per cent of electrical power, who could end up paying upto Rs 25 crore annually.
Though streetlights have been installed in almost all parts of the state they do not function properly everywhere and all the time. The streetlights on many roads are non-functional and it takes days or before linemen turn up to replace them or to make them functional. What is worse, vested interests in municipalities and panchayats have got streetlights installed in places according to their interests and wishes. Maintenance of street lighting has changed hands several times in the state.
Earlier, municipalities and panchayats were given the responsibility to look after streetlights in their areas. They were given grants by the state government for it. The local bodies failed to effectively handle the job. Wastage was high. The local bodies could not manage regular and uninterrupted street lighting or timely switching on or switching of street lights. The local bodies often explained their poor maintenance on the ground that they did not get linemen when they wanted them; there were cases, they complained, when they had to wait for them to be free from their other responsibilities.
The problem was obvious: The staff of the local bodies do not have the required skills to look after the maintenance of streetlights; the skill lay with the workers of the electricity department. In 1985, the government decided not to depend on the local bodies for maintenance of street lights. The electricity department was going to do it. The panchayats and the municipal bodies were expected to inform the department where the streetlights had to be fixed and the department would do the fixing. In 2006, the government modified the order and directed the panchayats and municipalities to pay for the extended works of streetlights.
In 2012, the government notified the supply code and conditions of the Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission (JERC) making maintenance of street lights, including replacing of the non-functional ones, the responsibility of the local bodies. Though more than six years have passed since the norms were notified they have not been enforced. Despite the JERC norms the electricity department has made plans to undertake installation and maintenance of street lights because they feel the local bodies cannot handle the job properly.
It is an admission of the government failure in compelling the municipalities and panchayats to do a proper job on maintenance of street lights, which is so important from the point of citizens’ convenience, road safety and crime prevention. The department should have worked hard to enforce the JERC directions, rather than giving in to the inefficiency and lethargy of the local bodies.
The electricity department takes care of streetlights in municipal and panchayat areas, while the tourism department does of lighting on the beaches and the public works department of that on highways and bridges. There are plans to bring all the streetlights under the authority of the electricity department. In order to bring uniformity in street lighting the state has been replacing the tube lights and sodium vapour bulbs with LED (light emitting diodes).
The replacement of streetlights has been implemented under Prime Minister’s Street Light National Programme (SLNP) at a cost of Rs 128 crore. The woes of the people are far from over as even LED street lights fail too often. Charging people an extra fee for street lights that are non-functional or erratic would be injustice to people. Street lights must be entirely government responsibility. People are already paying a high tariff for consumption. They should not be made to pay for public lighting.