Review of UDAY Scheme on completion of one year

The UDAY scheme was launched an year ago, and was then touted as signature Discom reform scheme of the central government. In this article, we have analyzed the impact of UDAY scheme, responsiveness of the states, extent to which the Discom’s have got benefitted and also the reforms which they were supposed to undertake.

To briefly summaries, the UDAY scheme aimed at “financial turnaround of Power Distribution Compa-nies”.
Under the scheme, the state government was re-quired to take over 75% of the existing debt of the Discom and issue State Government bonds in re-turn.

The remaining 25% debt would be issued either as a bond by the Discom (guaranteed by the state gov-ernment) or the terms of the loan would be changed by the banks. In return, the Discom’s were required to undertake a series of reforms.

The key ones were:

  • Reduction of AT&C losses to 15% by 2018-19,
  • Quarterly tariff revision (to partly reduce the burden of large revisions once a year),
  • Reduce the gap between cost and revenue per unit to zero by 2018-19 and
  • Discom’s were to comply with RPO outstanding since April 2012 as per timelines suggested by MoP.

For a more detailed list of the requirements and for a detailed understanding of the scheme, refer our article here, or the scheme document here. After an year from launching, 17 states and UT’s have signed up for the UDAY scheme, while 15 have not. Notable states that have not signed up include Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Orissa, Assam and Telangana.
These states have relatively large Discoms and, espe-cially in the case of Tamil Nadu, significant accumulated losses and bank debt. Another way to look at this is the political affiliation of the state.
Most states that have signed up for UDAY scheme are associated or governed by BJP. Notable exceptions are Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Bihar. The only notable exception amongst the states that have not signed is Assam (governed by the BJP).

Bonds issuance:
8 states have issued bonds, aggregating to Rs 149,000 crore. The coupon rate (interest rate) on these ranges from 8.12% to 8.55%. Of the total bonds issued more than 80% are contributed by just 3 states – Rajasthan, UP and Haryana. To understand the impact of the bond issuance, we analyzed the balance sheet of one Discom (the Jaipur Discom). The key points are:

*Coupon rates are as per latest issuance
Total debt of the Jaipur Discom has reduced by Rs 5,722 crore, or 22% of the total. However, this ag-gregate number includes a significantly higher amount of debt that was directly taken by the Discom from the banks. This debt is now replaced with debt owed to the state government. Thus, while the debt burden of the Discom has not changed much, its the banks that have benefited the most – they now own government bonds (which are a very good asset to own), compared to Discom loans. The performance on the actions that the Discom’s were supposed to take is analyzed below.

Note : Additional Bank debt taken over in June 2016 – Rs 7,228 crore.

Tariff increases:
Of the 8 largest Discom’s analyzed, not a single Discom undertook tariff revisions on a quarterly basis. Further, there was a wide difference between tariff increases of different Discoms. Discom’s of UP, Punjab, Bihar, Jharkhand & J&K did not increase tariff at all. While Ra-jasthan increased domestic tariff by 2%, Chhattis-garh increased the same by 21%. It is important to note that while Rajasthan issued bonds of 58,000 crores, Chhattisgarh only issued bonds for Rs 870 crores (the lowest amongst all states).

Haryana raised domestic tariff by a respectable 19%Industrial tariff increased also show a similar story – Rajasthan raised tariffs by 1.67%. ,Haryana by 0.98%, while Chhattisgarh by 18%. Other states did not raise tariffs.
Renewable Purchase Obligations:
An important requirement of the UDAY scheme was that Discom’s were to be fully complaint of RPO  from April 1, 2012 onwards. The scheme document says the following with regards to RPO -
“Clause 9 – DISCOM’s opting for the scheme will comply with the Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) outstanding since 1st April 2012, within a pe-riod to be decided in consultation with MoP”


However, the MoU entered between the Ministry of Power and the Discom’s is completely silent on the RPO requirement. Prima facie, it appears that this point has been dropped by the Ministry. The only exception is the MoU with UP Discom, which has the following provision.
“Clause 1.3 (f) – In compliance with the Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) outstanding since 1.4.2012 to 31.3.2015, Discoms of UP shall fulfill RPO obligation 3 years after the Discom reaches break-even i.e. the Financial year 2019-20”
This clause presents several legal and practical prob-lems that will impact the REC markets significantly. Firstly, it is in direct contravention to the Electricity Act 2003 which obligates RPO on all consumption.

There is no provision for waiver or roll forward of such obligations. In light of this, can the MoP and UP Discom circumvent an act of the parliament and mutually decide a timeline for compliance? Further, the MoU wordings itself leave ample scope for further delay/ waiver when it says – “...3 years after the Discom reaches break-even…”. If the Discom does not reach break-even does that mean it will get further time?
In short, the original intent of the UDAY scheme re-sulting in RPO compliance has been abandoned by the Ministry of Power itself.
Reduction in AT&C losses:
AT&C losses remain very high for most Discom’s in the country. This is due to several reasons – weak distribution infrastructure being one. However, this caption is also a proxy for un-checked theft of power and un-metered supply. Even without the UDAY scheme, AT&C losses have been declining. However, since this data becomes available only at the time of ARR filing by the Discom, it is not possi-ble to verify if the decline has accelerated after the adoption of UDAY.

*Source: Forum of Regulators (FoR) Report
Conclusion:
The UDAY scheme has resulted in significant redrawing of the balance sheet of the Discoms. The beneficiaries of the scheme have been the banks, which were sitting on unsustainable levels of debt with loss making enti-ties. This debt has now been replaced with high quality government debt. However, in terms of real reforms and changes on the ground, whether relating to tariff increases or RPO compliance, there seems to be little that is changing. Unless the government follows through with actual op-erational changes, the story is likely to repeat itself over the next 5-10 years, where Discom’s will have again built up unsustainable debt and losses.

Our previous blog on Uday scheme can be accessed here.

Cross-subsidy surcharge continues to rise

A recent article in Business Standard highlighted the disproportionate rise of cross-subsidy surcharge (CSS) in many states. We have been tracking this issue as well and had highlighted the problem in our blog & NL Volume 62.

 

In the past, CSS has been calculated on the basis of the cost of the marginal 5% (in other words the most expensive 5%) of power procured by the state. This results in a bias towards the highest cost paid, resulting in high CSS. The National tariff policy (NTP) has suggested change in this methodology to a weighted average cost model, and also proposed that CSS be restricted to 20% of the tariff. However, recent increases show that states have largely ignored the provisions of the NTP.

 

A big reason for the rise in CSS is also the fact that states continue to shy away from raising tariffs for domestic, agricultural and such categories. According to the Business Standard article, States like Chhattisgarh, UP, Uttarakhand and Bihar have already come up with their tariff orders for the financial year 2016-17, but have not raised retail tariffs. Only Gujarat has allowed a retail tariff increase.

 

With increasing cost of power the burden to foot the bill therefore falls on industrial and commercial consumers. As per the MoP data the below graph depicts change in CSS over the span of 1 year in the major states which varies from 35% to 321%.

 

 

 

 

 

UDAY Scheme’s Impact on Renewable Energy Sector

The UDAY scheme was launched by the government in November 2015, and so far as met with a good response from the states (16 states representing more than 90% of DISCOM losses has joined) and from industry observers. These cover most of the large consumption states, but also most of the large RE rich states (see map). Notable exception from the RE rich category are Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.  The problem that the UDAY scheme aims to solve is a huge one.

CLSA (an equity analysis firm), points out that the collective outstanding of DISCOMs to financial institutions is in excess of Rs 5.5 lakh crore. This equivalent to two-and-a-half times the defence budget; roughly six times the amount that will be spent this financial year on building roads; and enough to wipe out India’s fiscal deficit.

The UDAY scheme aims to revive DISCOMs by working on three pillars – achieve operational efficiency (this will primarily be achieved by reducing AT&C losses and smart metering), reducing the cost of power (by reducing the interest cost and coal costs) and financial discipline (tariff increases and constraints on banking). These approaches have several sub-steps like smart metering, billing efficiency, etc.

A major area of reform is financial. The scheme requires that 75% of the existing debt of the DISCOM be taken over by the state. States have some moratorium before the debt is included in their overall fiscal limits. However, this step has two major impacts:

  1. It transfers the problem of DISCOM finances into the hands of its creators – States (and their politicians) are largely responsible for the current situation. Political patronage has kept AT&C losses high due to un metered supply and theft, and tariff increases have lagged costs
  2. It ‘bails out’ the banks – in RBI’s own words – “…UDAY, will essentially be shifting the stress from financial institutions to the state governments, though the initiative would instil financial discipline at the sub-sovereign level, especially in ensuring recovery of user charges.”

 

Impact on RE Sector

We believe that over the longer term, improvement in DISCOM finances will have a significant positive impact on the RE sector. In many DISCOMs step-motherly treatment to RE continues due to its perception of being costly and infirm power. Easing financial situation will create more openness to RE power.

The immediate impacts are likely to be felt strongly also.

The first one is likely on the REC markets – the scheme document says – “DISCOMs opting for the scheme will comply with RPO outstanding since April 1, 2012 within a period to be decided in consultation with MoP”. The participating states have many large power consuming states, and many have large outstanding RPO obligations (eg. UP, MP). This condition is likely to push RECs trading significantly.

The second impact is likely to be on the mode of power procurement in the near future. Increasingly, fixed preferential tariffs for RE look out of place. The scheme document says – “To reduce power costs, States shall take steps for: prospective power purchase through transparent competitive bidding by DISCOMs.”

The third impact is likely to be the worsening of the payment cycle to RE generators in the immediate term. This is because bank funding will dry up immediately and be severely constrained for working capital requirements. The document says – “Henceforth, Banks/ FIs shall not advance short term debt to DISCOMs for financing losses” and “for working capital, Banks/FIs shall lend to DISCOMs only up to 25% of previous year’s annual revenue, or as per prudential norms”

Improved financial situation of the DISCOMs will help in the long run, but in immediate term, payment cycles to RE producers are likely to get worse.

The fourth impact is likely to be on the off take side. With potential for faster and steeper tariff rise, RE projects are likely to get competitive in more states. It would have been helpful if the scheme document had also required mandatory open access in participating states.

 

Pitfalls

Like any previous DISCOM package, the key risk of failure is political. In the past, while DISCOMs have enjoyed the funding that such packages bring, state politicians have not allowed for tariff increases or long-term changes.

Even the current scheme has political overtones – a look at the map above suggests that mostly BJP ruled states have signed up. RBI has also recognized this, stating the issue is now in the hands of the “sub-sovereign level”.

However, compared to DISCOM packages of the past, this one appears to have more checks and balances through the state being the bond-issuer.

 

Conclusion

With DISCOMs being shut out of bank financing, the key question is – if they don’t sign up, what alternative do states have? No option sounds less bitter than the UDAY pill.

Therefore, overall, there is ample reason to hope the scheme will bring genuine and lasting changes at DISCOM level. This will be great news for the RE sector.

The Hindu article can be accessed  here.

The RBI report can be accessed  here.

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