The Smart Meters vs Jammu

Karanvir Gupta
Once upon a time there lived a boy with his family in Jammu. He used to hate summers for two reasons. One, because there was no air conditioner, no inverter and no cooler at his home. Secondly, there used to be 8-12 hour power cuts in a day. On those days when the summer heat grew unbearable he would force his father to take him out. They would all head out, guess where? Temples – with their well spread trees, marble flooring and watered earth – were cooler areas than any other parts in the city. On fanciful days, these retreats happened at Bagh-e-Bahu. This is how he came to live and experience the idea Jammu was and is – The City of Temples.
He would always ask his father, “When will summers get over? When will the power come back? I have to complete my homework, will this power go again?” There was this constant silence and his father’s hands would lift to swing the newspaper to flare the cool breeze in the direction of his son every time power went out. This once upon a time was not very long ago but 1998. And looks like the summer is still not over.
Fast forward to 2023, 25 years hence and we are still figuring out how to maintain an uninterrupted power supply, hustling with unscheduled power cuts, trying to alleviate the public misery out of no or single phase power and calming down the uproar about the menace the power supply and distribution still is. Top it up with the public’s resistance for the installation of Smart Meters across the city. The summers seem hotter.
It is saddening to see the state of affairs with J&K outstanding electrical debt of Rs14, 164 crores as per the last figures reported in September 2022. You know what is even more sad, that no one is willing to listen to each other and understand the problem that the power supply actually is at the core of it. And the behemoth it is going to become at the current pace of power consumption. It is imperative to understand the role smart meters can play in getting rid of the financial debt and the role the public of Jammu can play in ensuring the smooth transition to an always lit Jammu.
But for that to happen it is important that the public is convinced that smart meters are for the welfare of the public of Jammu and not otherwise. This needs the respective departments to pay heed to the concerns Jammu has about the installation of smart meters and answer those queries satisfactorily. I was appalled when recently the Department of Information & PR, J&K tweeted on X, “The market remains open in Jammu as usual” on the day the call for Jammu Bandh was given at the behest of three issues bothering Jammuites. This concerns me even more. Because then the question is not “if smart meters will be installed but will Jammu be ever heard and represented rightfully so?” As citizens of a place we call our home, I believe it is just fair to have questions about new policies and changes that concern our day-to-day matters like electricity consumption and billing methods and how it impacts everyone.
Who is going to install these meters? Does the public have to pay anything for the installation to the linemen or meter-readers? Will the meters have a proper display panel for the house-owners or residents of the house to track their electricity consumption? Or is it going to be a black-box? Where will the final reading be shown at the end of the month? Will the public continue receiving the paper invoices at their house address? Can these payments be made digitally? Will smart meters ensure an account linking in UPI Payment apps for the owner to pay directly? How will these factors change in case of commercial areas and establishments?
Operationally, will these smart meters include ACs, heaters, and other heavy-load devices? How can the public be ensured that they are not being charged more than usual, which happens to be one of the major concerns of the public? Will smart meters of the household have to bear the cost of the street lamp or any other public facilities on the same line supplying to the house? Who is going to ensure that none of the spending on the electricity of the public utilities such as Sulabh Shauchalaya, street lamps, CCTV units, etc. is added to the general public’s private bills? Are we expecting a revision in the change of price per unit post the installation of smart meters?
A comprehensive FAQ in our dailies could actually help the public get over these concerns for better. An assuring message over the radio by the folks at the helm of affairs can go a long way in bridging the gap between the public and the installation of smart meters.
Maybe for the technical department, installing smart meters might seem a natural solution to the rising problem of electrical debt and plugging the revenue gap. But for the public, it is a big behavioural change. I still remember how a couple of years ago, the idea of tokenizing electricity payments for ACs in advance at the cost of Rs7.2k and then Rs6k per AC per home (for one summer) also met huge public resistance. Again, because the public was not used to it.
But isn’t this bound to happen when the public is used to using resources for free be it electricity or water? It seems like a huge cultural shift to start paying for services that were once taken for granted and offered for free. Over the period of years this public household has grown in all aspects – in terms of the number of people residing in a house, number of appliances and other convenience equipment in a household and hence the overall monthly electricity bills. I think we should be humble in admitting that our need for electricity has outgrown our capacity to pay for those electrical units. Not only in Jammu but everywhere. But it will also be foolish on the part of the authorities to deem the public resistance as unfair, given the history of circumstances.
The corporation needs to acknowledge and understand that there is a stickiness associated with the long term consumption behaviours (freebies in this case) developed over a period of time. Something that we have always been promised free as a part of electoral manifestos eventually has a cost associated with it. The time has come to repay. But the behavioural mindset doesn’t come easy. It is a slow progression.
It is for us – the public – to understand that we cannot further enjoy free electricity if we want the electricity to keep reaching our homes. And it is for the authorities to figure out a well-planned evolving roll-out plan that makes the public comfortable and used to the idea of paying as per electricity usage and not doling out free electricity units at the behest of some jugaad in the department or at the ground level.
The time is ripe for us to build the cities of the future. That demands us to grow wise and prudent about consumption of resources be it electricity. It is in the favour of everyone if we grow conscious of how much electricity we consume at our homes, offices and workspaces. A judicious usage along with paying for the usage of electrical units is only going to mend the otherwise disrupted power supply and distribution scenario across the UT.
Let’s not forget, “A Smart City is not the one with the smartest infrastructure but the one with the smartest citizens.” We are, aren’t we? I still wish to visit more temples in and around the city but as part of my spiritual entourage and not as a means to escape the summer heat at home. With love, the boy from 1998.

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