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Suddenly, customers are paying their electricity bills on time

Power retailers are seeing their revenues surge as customers dump banknotes

Gulf News

Mumbai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to scrap large bank notes have an unintended beneficiary: India’s cash-strapped power companies.

Electricity consumers who hadn’t paid their bills for months are queuing up to square their accounts as the old bills can still be used to pay charges until November 24. In a surprise move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew 500 and 1,000 rupee bills as legal tender from November 9. Since then, people have formed queues at banks, fuel retail stations and electricity billing offices to use or exchange their old currency notes.

Power retailers in the northern state of Haryana saw unexpected collections of 750 million rupees (Dh40.05 million) in the first 10 days after the decision, Anurag Rastogi, principal secretary in the province’s power department, said by phone. Other consumers paid bills well before the due date, causing a temporary surge in collections, he said. Neighbouring Punjab received extra collections of about 200 million rupees (Dh10.6 million), said S.C. Arora, finance director at Punjab State Power Corporation.

Modi’s government has been trying to revive the poorly-performing power distributors by reorganising their debt, cutting costs and increasing revenue by reducing theft and improving collections. The retailers purchased electricity at an average price of 5.20 rupees per kilowatt hour in the year ended March 2015 and earned an average 4.46 per kilowatt hour on sales, according to the latest data from Power Finance Corporation.

Uttar Pradesh state’s power retailers have seen collections surge but don’t have specifics, said Arvind Rajvedi, commercial director at Paschimanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam Ltd., the state’s biggest power retailer.

“There’s definitely been a jump in collection of arrears, but we have not been able to assess how much they are,” he said. “On some days, our staff has gone home only after midnight. The counters remain open until the last customer has been served.”

The windfall is temporary at best, said Salil Garg, a director at India Ratings & Research, the local unit of Fitch Ratings.

“There would be a very minuscule percentage of customers who didn’t intend to pay, but paid back their arrears using the old notes,” he said. “It’s not going to make a material difference to their finances.”

Some, more efficient distributors such as those in the states of Delhi and Kerala, haven’t seen an impact.