Power for Maharashtra - tourist town gets pre-paid meters

April 7th, 2011 - 11:50 am ICT by IANS  

Mahabaleshwar, April 7 (IANS) For the first time in this highly industrialised state, a pilot project to install 3,000 pre-paid electric meters has been launched in Mahabaleshwar hill station in Satara district.

Consumers can now recharge their power meters in advance, much like mobile phones, and avoid the headache of keeping track of electricity bills. So it comes as a huge boon to people who own holiday homes in this tourist town, as they often find their electricity connections cut off after days of staying away in cities.

The first such meter of the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (Mahadiscom) was installed in the residence of Mahabaleshwar Municipal Council chairperson Jaywanti Jadhav Wednesday.

The meters will now be installed in homes and business establishments of the town famous for its cool climate and luscious strawberries.

With a population of about 25,000 people, Mahabaleshwar sees over 40,000 tourists visiting it on weekends.

“The revolutionary step would also entail immense benefits for customers who will never have to face power cuts on account of non-payment of electricity bills, especially in their absence,” Mahadiscom Superintending Engineer in-Charge (Satara) Gorakhnath Chavan told IANS.

The consumers will also get a flat five percent discount on actual power consumption. Mahadiscom offers one percent off if the bill is cleared within the stipulated seven days.

Chavan said the pre-paid electricity meters shall be installed free of cost by the state power utility and the consumers can start their re-charge from a minimum Rs.100.

Last month, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar had inaugurated the pre-paid electric meter after securing the approval of the Maharashtra Energy Regulatory Commission (MERC).

Pawar, who is also state power minister, said in the first phase of the project, 25,000 such meters shall be installed in Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Pen (Raigad), Kalyan (Thane), Kolhapur, Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Lonavala, Khandala, Matheran and Chikhaldhara.

“Initially, we are offering a single-phase, 60 Ampere power metres, which is sufficient to operate a geyser, a refrigerator or air-conditioner and all other domestic electrical appliances, or even a small business enterprise,” Chavan explained.

The Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) has planned a host of facilities to ensure that people opt for the pre-paid meters, which would help the power utility lessen its huge losses, a significant chunk of it arising out of unpaid bills and power thefts.

People can check the balance in their electric meters and recharge online from anywhere in the world.

Besides, in case a customer exhausts his balance on public holidays or weekends, his electricity connection will not be cut because the machine is programmed to count only the working days.

The status of the balance in the prepaid meters would also be known through audio and visual alarms - green for sufficient balance, yellow for reducing balance and red for danger zone, along with beeps to remind the consumer to get a recharge.

Explaining why Mahabaleshwar was chosen for the launch, Chavan said it was one hill station - besides Panchgani, Lonavala, Khandala, Matheran and Chikhaldhara - where lakhs of people from Mumbai, Pune and other places have a second holiday home.

It is difficult for them to keep track of their electric bills and MSEB is forced to cut off supplies following unpaid bills despite reminders.

“When the consumers come to their second home during weekends, festivals or vacations, invariably they go without power for a couple of days till they pay up all pending bills,” he pointed out.

The menace of unpaid bills is also considered one of the reasons why unscrupulous elements resort to power thefts, which in turn adds to the huge losses - around 23 percent per annum - incurred by MSEB.

The first prepaid electricity meters were installed in a private township in West Bengal around three years ago.

However, in Mahabaleshwar, it will be made available to one and all as an ‘on demand’ facility by MSEB. Depending on the results, MSEB will roll out the project in other parts of the state as well.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

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