Call it a paradox. Bangladesh has come out of its dark days of day long load sheddings and produces surplus power. Yet, parts of rural Bangladesh remain in darkness for hours.
The Business Standard has collected data from rural and semi-urban areas of 21 districts on 5 and 10 June, and found that on an average, many of these places remained without electricity for six hours and the longest duration of power outage was 12 hours.
Some places witnessed power outages between five and seven times a day when the government is paying a penalty amounting to Tk9,000 crore a year for keeping the power companies' capacity unused.
But why is this happening if Bangladesh produces power in surplus of its demand?
From a chronic power shortage to a power surplus in a decade or so is a success story for Bangladesh.
But the people, particularly those in villages and towns served by Palli Bidyut Samities under the Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB), are not getting its full benefit because of poor transmission networks.
Load shedding is part of life in many of those areas.
Experts say industries, small ventures in particular, incur losses with frequent power cuts hampering productivity and increasing production costs.
The authorities have no plausible explanation for power cuts as there is no official data on load shedding.
The BREB, the agency responsible for supplying electricity to 84,800 villages with 80 Palli Bidyut Samities, claimed that there was no load shedding in the areas under its jurisdiction.
Md Zohirul Islam, member (distribution and operation) at the BREB said "We are getting supply of electricity as required from the Bangladesh Power Development Board. Therefore, there is no load shedding in our distribution areas."
However, he said at times they needed to turn off power supply to some areas to carry out maintenance activities in the daytime.
"Our system has become outdated as it has been running since 1980. That is why transmission lines very often get severed during storms and rain, forcing them to suspend the supply in the daytime for repair work," he added.
There will be no such issue after the system upgrade is done, Zohirul further added.
But the reality is different.
Electricity consumers in almost all upazilas of Cumilla are suffering from frequent power outages as the district gets lower than needed power supply from the national grid.
Sources said the district gets only 458MW of electricity per day against its maximum demand for 532MW.
Households and commercial customers in Rangpur are also experiencing load shedding two to three times a day.
Md Harun-ur-Rashid, senior general manager at Rangpur Palli Bidyut Samity, said the samity is getting a supply of 62-63MW a day against a demand of 90MW.
Sharing his experience about load shedding at a programme on 12 June, Dr Ahsan H Mansur, executive director at the Policy Research Institute, said he has a voluntary organisation in a rural area that remains without electricity for almost 12 hours a day.
"We are paying Tk12.5 for per unit of electricity but we are not getting the benefit compared to what we pay. We have to run generators all the time," he added.
Industries are incurring losses because of voltage fluctuation and destabilisation, he said.
"We suggested that the authorities focus on this issue so that people can trust the grid line, otherwise, the power sector will continue to be a loss-maker," Ahsan added.
Over the last one decade, the country has added 20,285MW fresh power production capacity and became a surplus power producing nation with 40%-45% idle capacity.
Meanwhile, the number of electricity consumers jumped from 1.80 crore to 4 crore.
The duration of power supply in a day also has improved compared to what it was a decade back.
Power cut the moment the sky clouds over
The duration of load shedding gets longer in all parts of the country during the rainy season as the power distribution authorities interrupt the supply the moment clouds gather in the sky, customers complained.
Customers of Narail, Khulna and Brahmanbaria Palli Bidyut Samities are suffering the most during the ongoing rainy season with many of them remaining without electricity for hours.
Atiqul Islam Prince, a businessman from Auria village in Narail, said, "Children cannot study properly because of load shedding. He has recently rented a house in town for his children's future.
Abu Anas Md Naser, deputy general manager of Narail Palli Bidyut Samity, claimed that there has been no shortage of electricity in Narail for two years. But every day they have to suspend power supply for a period to perform maintenance work in different areas.
Development work by the Roads and Highways Department also is a major reason why load shedding occurs in rural areas.
Manikganj is one of the districts that often suffers from load shedding despite having the required power supply because of year-round road maintenance that requires relocating distribution lines.
Abdur Rashid Mridha, general manager at Manikganj rural electricity office, said "Power supply is often cut off not because of shortage of electricity. The disruption happens because of maintenance and development work of the system."
Our correspondents from Pabna, Laxmipur, Noakhali, Comilla, Rangpur, Jashore, Dinajpur, Brahmanbaria, Habiganj, Shariatpur, Gazipur, Narail, Cox's Bazar, Manikganj, Faridpur, Khulna and Netrokona contributed to the report