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Time for BEST to evolve or perish

Since August 1905, when it first officially became an electricity supplier, the BEST came to be a loss-making, loan-burdened power distributor catering to some 10 lakh consumers in the island city over the course of a century, .
But on Thursday, the Supreme Court allowed Tata Power to lay cables in BEST’s turf (Colaba-Sion/Mahim), thus ending its monopoly and bringing relief to south Mumbaikars, who now have an option to choose their power supplier.

Over the years, many of these customers had no choice but to complain about gaps in service at a rickety-looking office, and pray that the officials would look into their problems.

There were also several cases of inflated bills — which were sometimes two or three times the real amount - bringing in a spate of complaints. And all the BEST did was cite mistakes in its software, while insisting that people pay up.
BEST now fears that its most valuable consumers will flock to Tata.

But it is trying to put up a brave, altruistic front by saying that its low-end consumers might actually benefit from Tata’s entry. It is hopeful that Tata will approach it to use its cable network, thus giving it hope for a revenue avenue. The Electricity Act, however, doesn’t allow any of this.

The BEST should instead seize upon this as a chance to streamline its working, and broaden its perspective after years of monopoly having constricted its vision.

At a time when its is failing to patch up its software that generates electricity bills, or provide discounts to its consumers for prompt payments, or give them superior customer care and billing centres, or pay off its debts, and is surrounded by numerous complaints at various levels, competition will be an eye-opener.

With a private firm of the stature of Tata entering the fray, comparisons will be made at various levels, right from supply to receipt of bill payments. In the last analysis, it will be people who will finally judge the two giants and their performances.

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