We’re being kept in the dark

Economic Times


Modi Sarkar, tell us the whole truth about India being a `power surplus’ nation

The NDA government’s logic for assessing its success is quite straightforward: (re) launch a scheme amid much fanfare. Follow it up with a `mobile app to monitor real-time data’. Then proceed to extol yourself for the scheme’s raging success. This strategy cannot be farther from reality .
Take the power sector. On the one hand, the government is permanently in a self-congratulatory mode for its `power surplus’. On the other, 300 million citizens are living in darkness. The government has whipped up a frenzy around its Grameen Vidyutikaran (GARV) app and its Gram Vidyut Abhiyantas (GVAs) monitoring the situation on the ground. The devil, however, lies in the detail.

When the prime minister claimed that the village of Nagela Fatela had “finally been electrified 70 years after Independence“, little did he realise that he had spoken too soon. The villagers were, well, in the dark, with only wires and poles, but no running electricity supply . So, even while the power ministry’s count of electrified villages happily ticks upward each day , this data has repeatedly been shown to be riddled with discrepancies.

As per a report, the village of Haldu Khata in Uttar Pradesh, which does not have electrical infrastructure, is also classified as `electrified’. Can mere photographic evidence of wires and poles be a barometer of an entire village’s electrification? A data dashboard accessible to all is a good monitoring mechanism, but not a magic wand that will automatically ensure a scheme’s execution.

Our villages are the lifeblood of our nation, and the UPA under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana over nine years successfully electrified a mammoth 1,08,280 villages, an average of close to 12,000 villages a year. But the NDA government claimed a `record’ of electrifying 7,501 villages over 13 months under their repackaged Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana. The UPA electrified 28,706 villages in 2006-07 alone, and over 18,000 villages in 200910 and 2010-11each.

You had Ready Foundation

As far as transmission goes, the commissioning of the line between Raichur in Karnataka and Solapur in Maharashtra during the UPA regime, allowing integration of the southern grid with the national grid, paved the way for the transformational `one nation, one grid’ vision. The NDA has built on this to add 1,28,403 MVA of substation capacity over 2014-16, just a little over the 1,20,995 MVA added by UPA over 2012-14.

Far from acknowledging UPA’s contribution in laying the groundwork, the NDA has now taken to praising itself over our status as a `power surplus’ nation. It is no secret that the decline in energy shortage has been a trend since 2008-09, dropping from 11.1% to 4.2% in 2013-14. The construction of conventional plants typically takes 4-5 years. So, it is evident that the addition in capacity , further lowering this deficit, is also an outcome of projects initiated by the UPA.

But is it not deceptive to pride ourselves on power surplus, while the latent electricity demand of thousands who still languish in the dark is not even taken into consideration?
And what of those who get intermittent, poor-quality supply , often limited to just a few hours a day? As long as the real demand of every last habi tation is not accounted for, this much bandied about `surplus’ remains a theoretical, hypothetical proposition.

While the government has benefitted from lower energy commodity prices and a stronger transmission network, the much-hyped power surplus does not square with long power cuts in most parts of India. What is holding this up?
Financially distressed state discoms are curbing their electricity purchases while gencos are lying idle.Almost 20,000 MW of generation capacity is not being utilised for want of long-term buyers. The discoms, unable to recover costs, have, instead of buying this surplus power, taken to load-shedding. Consequently , the real demand is not accurately reflected up the value chain.

The government has introduced the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana.But its future depends largely on how much state governments adhere to it. It remains to be seen whether the Centre can leverage at least the BJPruled states to bring discoms into line by making gencos sign power purchase agreements with discoms to reflect real, not starved, demand.

What about, say , Maharashtra, where the state genco was compelled to shut down 60% of its thermal units? Will the NDA succumb to political pressures, or rescue the consumer from discoms, the self-appointed gatekeepers of our power sector?
With India’s commitment for a sustainable tomorrow, our 70% dependence on thermal plants for electricity generation is deeply alarming.India ranks fifth in hydropower potential. Yet, power generation through this cleaner, cheaper source seems to have taken a back seat in the government’s priority list.

Let There be Light

Today , gencos are struggling to sell power because of inaccurate reflection of demand, transmission bottlenecks, discoms’ inability to buy surplus because they do not have enough money . And over 50 million households are not even on the grid yet.

Does the government deserve to pat itself on the back while glaring contradictions between what one hears and what millions experience in everyday life still persist? Invocations of `tamsoma jyotirgamya’ (from darkness, lead me to light) inculcated in us from childhood seem to be reverberating again, loud and clear.The writer is former minister of state for power

Readers React

More comments on economictimes.com

Harsh Bhola

In modern times, electricity should be the right of every person.Availability of electricity can be a great facilitator to growth and development. Till this is addressed, a country cannot be power surplus.

Shyam Choudhary

Coal shortage, at a precarious level during the previous government, mments on economictimes.com is almost not there now and there are hardly any power cuts in CESC districts. Power generation has improved, but SEBs are working in ancient style and much depends on the ruling party in a state.

Shreedhara Shetty

India as a whole is power surplus indeed. It is the SEBs that are not lifting it or do not have the infra structure to lift it. The SEBs are under state governments. When Scindia’s party was in power for 60 years, they were busy doling out poverty to citizens by giving free power, free water, free kerosene and free rice, and free money as well by waiving the loans.

Chandrasekaran Krishnamurthy

It would have been more appropriate had the former Union minister offered his comments during the next general election as what has not been achieved in the last six decades can’t be achieved in three years. The country’s interest is a priority, not vote-bank politics.

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