Vantage point

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Cut Reliance Some Slack

My house is among the 20,000 houses served by Reliance Energy which still haven't had their electricity restored. However I bear no malice or anger towards Reliance or the Ambanis. In fact I am irritated when I see a politician, Narayan Nane, talk about how they may arrest Reliance Energy officials if the power isn't restored in time.

This is wrong on so many levels.

Firstly it is wrong because no government owned company can be sued or punished if they don't provide services satisfactorily, even if it's an essential service. So when MSEB was carrying out 12-hour power cuts in rural Maharashtra for six months, they did so without any fear of arrests or even the slightest action.

If the floods had happened 5 years back, when BSES was a state-owned company, no politician would have dared talk of arrests. But now that it is a private company, they casually throw around ideas of placing the Reliance Energy behind bars.

A lot of consumers and politicians have asked why Tata Power did not face any such problems. Firstly, Tata Power mainly supplies energy in South Mumbai, where the rains were 15 times milder. Secondly, Tata Power has always been a private company. They set up their own infrastructure, including transformers and lines. They thus made the infrastructure adhere to their standards, which would obviously be stricter than a government owned company.

However Reliance Energy inherited the infrastructure from BSES. They did not install these transformers in low-lying areas. The infrastructure was of a shoddy public sector level.

Whatever complaints one has about Reliance twisting policy for their benefits, they have always satisfied their customers and their shareholders. In fact during the 48-hours of flodding last week, the only telephone network that was working was Reliance Infocomm. All others, Orange, Airtel, BPL, MTNL, BSNL, were unable to handle the load. This shows that the Reliance Infocomm infrastructure, which was laid by Reliance itself, was sturdily built, and perfectly capable to performing even under a crisis.

All of Reliance's plants and refineries are also acknowledged as being world class.

Even Reliance Energy is a million times more customer friendly as compared to MSEB. They have a dedicated phone line where customers can call and get info, even during a rare power cut. I remember a couple of months back when there was a power failure at my place. I called the Reliance Energy number, and it was answered by a lady who said that they are sorry for the power cut, and it will be restored in one hour. Sure enough, an hour later, power was back.

Compare this with MSEB. Whenever there is a power cut in Pune, MSEB officials either don't answer the phone, or if they do, are very rude and lax in their responses to the customers. Those are the people I'd love to see arrested.

I'd also love to see arrested the politicians of both Sena and Congress, who did not bother to add a single megawatt of capacity in Maharashtra in over a decade and plunged the state into a sure-fire crisis.