EMI Route

MoP allows staggered payment of discom dues

In a first-of-its-kind move to tackle the problem of mounting discom du­es, the Ministry of Power (MoP) has allo­wed discoms to clear their outstanding dues along with late payment surcharge (LPS) in equated monthly in­s­tal­me­nts (EMIs). On June 3, 2022, the MoP issued the Electricity (LPS and Re­la­ted Matters) Rules, 2022 wherein the payment of outstanding dues, including principal and LPS accrued up to the date of notification of the rules, will be re­scheduled and the due dates redetermined for payment in EMIs of 12-48 months, without further imposition of LPS. However, a delay in the payment of any instalment would attract LPS on the entire outstanding dues.

Delays in payment against power purcha­se by discoms are the biggest reason for liquidity stress in the power sector. As of May 18, 2022, discom overdues (ex­­­cluding disputed amount and LPS) stood at Rs 1,000 billion and LPS dues stood at Rs 68.4 billion. Ac­cor­ding to the power ministry’s initial estima­tes (wh­en the power ministry had anno­unced in May 2022 that a one-time relaxation wherein the amount outstanding inclu­des principal and LPS on the date of no­tification of the sc­heme will be fro­zen without further imposition of LPS un­der the scheme), the scheme will save an amount of Rs 198.3 billion on LPS in the next 12 to 48 months. States like Ta­mil Nadu and Mahara­shtra with large outstanding du­es will save over Rs 45 billion each, Uttar Prade­sh will save arou­nd Rs 25 billion while An­­dh­ra Pradesh, Jammu & Kash­mir, Ra­jas­th­an and Telangana will save in the range of Rs 11 billion-Rs 17 billion each.

To recall, this is not the first liquidation scheme or bailout package for the power distribution segment. The earlier one was the liq­ui­dity infusion scheme implemented under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, wherein the central government had extended loans worth Rs 1.35 trillion to clear discom dues. However, its impact was short-lived and outstanding discom dues swelled soon after, owing to liquidity challenges. That said, the latest intervention is different from earlier on­es and is expected to ensure better payment discipline in the long term. Sachin Gupta, exe­cutive director and chi­ef rating offi­cer, Care­Edge, explains. “Un­like the previous schemes where financing was arr­an­ged or liabilities we­re taken over by the state governments, the recent EMI notification is mo­re of a measure to ensure payment discipline among the discoms. The sche­me takes cognisance of the discoms’ inability to make lump-sum payme­nts to clear overdues because of their weak fi­nancial position and aims at re­scheduling the­ir liabilities towards select creditors. Akin to the August 2019 rule, which made the is­s­u­ance of a letter of cre­dit mandatory by discoms against power purchase from gencos, these rules will bring in the much-needed payment discipline in the power distribution sector,” says Gupta.

Details of the Electricity (LPS and Related Matters) Rules, 2022

Order of payment and adjustment and rate of LPS: The LPS will be payable on the payment outstanding after the due date at the base rate for the first month of default. The rate of LPS for the successive months of default will inc­re­ase by 0.5 per cent for every month of delay. However, the LPS will not be more than 3 per cent higher than the base rate and will not exceed the rate specified in the agreement.

The payments by discoms to gencos/tra­nscos/trading licensees will first be adjusted towards LPS and, thereafter towards mon­thly charges, starting from the longest overdue bill. All the bills payable by a discom will be time-tagged and the payments will be adjusted first against the oldest bill, then the second oldest bill, and so on.

Liquidation of arrears: The total outstanding dues including LPS up to the date of notificati­on of the rules will be rescheduled and the due dates will be redetermined for payment by a distribution licensee in EMIs of 12-48 months. The maximum number of EMIs have been off­ered to discoms with over Rs 100 billion of outstanding dues. At the same time, discoms with dues of up to Rs 5 billion, can pay their arrears in 12 monthly instalments.

The distribution licensee will communicate in writing to the generating com­p­any/tra­ns­mi­ssion licensee/electricity tra­ding licensee the outstanding dues and number of instalments in which the dues will be paid within 30 days of the promulgation of the new rules. The first due date for the payment of EMIs will be the fifth day of the immediate month after 45 days from the notification of the rules. The due date for subsequent EMIs will be the fifth day of the subsequent months. Notably, if the distribution licensee ag­rees to pay the arrears due as per the instalment fixed under the rule and ma­kes timely payme­nts towards the instalments, then LPS will not be pay­able on the outstanding dues from the day of the notification of these rules. However, in case of any delay in the payment of an instalment, the LPS will be payable on the entire outstanding dues as on the date of notification of the rules.

Operationalising the payment security me­cha­ni­sm and its consequences: A distribution licensee or user of a transmission system will mainta­in an unconditional, irrevocable and ad­e­quate pay­­ment security mechanism. The generating company will supply power only if an adequate payment security mechanism is ma­in­tained or an advance payment is made. Oth­er­wise, upon supply of power, the generating company will lose the right to collect the LPS. In case of non-payment of outstanding dues by the default trigger date, the obligation of the generating company to supply po­wer will be reduced to 75 per cent of the contracted power and the balance 25 per cent will be sold thro­ugh the power ex­changes. Furthermore, in ca­se a discom fails to establish a payment security mechanism or continues to default on payment for a period of 30 days, the generating company will be entitled to sell 100 per cent of the power through the pow­er exchan­g­es. During the period of default, the discom will be liable to pay fixed charges/capacity char­g­es, as per the agreement.

Regulation of access to defaulting entities: In case of non-payment of dues, af­ter two and a half months from the presentation of the bill, power supply to the defaulting entity will be regulated. Short-term access for the sale and purchase of electricity, including on the po­wer ex­ch­­ange, will be entirely regula­ted, inclu­ding al­re­ady approved short-term access. The Na­tional Load Despa­t­ch Ce­n­tre may, under exceptional cir­cu-m­s­tan­c­es for grid security, tem­po­rar­ily re­view the regulation of short-term acce­ss under the rules. Further, in case du­es re­ma­in unpaid even after one month of re­gulation of short-term acc­ess, long- and medium-term access will also be regulated by 10 per cent.

Expected outcome and the way forward

The EMI scheme for the payment of outstanding dues by the discoms is expected to improve the cash visibility for the pow­er sector and inculcate payment discipline among the power discoms. Furth­er, the scheme will provide respite to disco­ms from the continuous accumulation of LPS. Notably, the timing of the scheme is crucial for the pow­er sector as the country is currently witnessing increasing po­wer demand and inadequate coal availability. Delay­ed payments by the discoms adds to the woes of the gencos and adver­sely affects their ability to maintain coal stocks at power plants. It also affects their cash flow, making it difficult to maintain adequate working capital for day-to-day operations, ultimately pushing them into insolvency.

Manish Gupta, senior director, CRISIL Ra­ti­ngs, notes, “With savings of around 25 per cent (Rs 65 billion-Rs 75 billion), the net payout of discoms to gencos is likely to be Rs 200 billion, over and abo­ve their yearly cost of po­wer purchase. Funding this additional payout through internal accruals could be a challenge as discoms continue to incur operating lo­sses. But an immediate, one-time add­itional recovery thro­ugh tariff or government assistance to at least cover the inc­remental payo­uts co­uld help discoms clear their dues this fis­­cal.” Fur­ther­more, as per CRISIL Rati­ngs an­alysis, the sche­me to liquidate over­dues can relea­se past receivables of the re­ne­wable energy sector of Rs 90 billion over the next two fiscals. This could im­prove the receivables period of leading renewable energy gencos by 40-50 days from the current 180 days, and improve the equity returns of some projects by up to 1 percentage point.

Net, net, the objective of the EMI sche­me is to ensure the well-being of the power sector. However, the timely payment of instalments by the discoms remains linked to the improvement in their financial position. This requires long-overdue structural changes in the segment pertai­ning to operational efficiency, and timely tariff revisions, electricity bill payments by government bodies and subsidy payout. Further­mo­re, the impleme­ntation of projects un­der the Revamp­ed Distribu­tion Sector Sche­me, which fo­cuses on network strengthening and ex­pansion, AT&C loss reduction and sm­art metering, re­mains key to improving discom efficiencies, going forward.

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