Amazing things can happen in India. Its our political culture, backed by people’s laid-back indifference. Instead of apologizing, even penalising the minister in-charge of Power for his abject failure when ten per cent of the world population plunged into darkness last week, Union Minister for Power Sushil Kumar Shinde not only blamed some States for “overdraw” of electricity, but was virtually thumped on the back and rewarded with a promotion to Home Minister. Surely, the vast majority of the population can be taken for granted. What an affront to the voting class!
This week’s power crisis in North India underlines the gap between India’s superpower dreams and a sweltering, gritty reality, which left passengers in trains stranded and hospitals in chaos. It also displayed that we have a dysfunctional government.
Like always, this has been India’s classical parody. Perhaps, it reflects a weak knee-jerk Central government which seems concerned about the next State or national election, that it is unwilling to offend small allies that it depends upon for political support for taking some harsh decisions with a clear national interest as a priority. Politicians representing some Northern States supporting the Congress government at the Center were indifferent whether the excessive power drawn would adversely affect other States, as long as they kept the farming segment in their States – their vote bank – happy.
On 31 July, three power grids across half of India collapsed due to excessive drawing of current, affecting over 620 million people. A day earlier, 370 million people were affected after the aging grids collapsed. There is little doubt that with the burgeoning middle class, and the resultant purchased of electrical gadgets, the demand for power to run TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, ACs even home lifts are on the rise. This, along with the mounting demand for power in the industrial and agricultural sector only accentuated the crisis, forcing the government to buy power from neighboring Bhutan. No wonder, many households now-a-days have backup generators, even invertors.
The power scarcity however is not a bolt from the blues. It is well established that power requirement in the country is huge and over the years the demand has grown. In 2001, the power grid to the North failed, but the warning was ignored.
What is tragic is the lack of political will to stem the rot. The national grid has a sophisticated system of circuit breakers that has the ability to prevent such blackouts, but evidently despite this, the grid collapsed, which indicates that the mechanism was being controlled by bureaucrats.
Now, there’s an immediate need for discipline amongst the State Electricity Boards to keep up to their designated power quota and effectively manage its distribution. Power Grid Corporation which mans the grids went on without much maintenance in an effort to keep the tarrifs low. Although penalties are imposed for overdraw, it is still cheaper for States to buy power from Center at the set rates than open market national energy exchanges. There’s also need to upgrade distribution network for effective supply. Considering that retroactive taxation and cumbersome licensing procedures have discouraged foreign investors, there’s need to boost coal supply to thermal-based power generation units. Coal India has failed to meet its target because of outdated technology and environmental clearances. The time has come for the government to decentralize renewable energy sources like wind, solar and micro-hydropower plants. There is an urgent need now for the government to speed up reforms in the power sector.
Underground cabling needs study
The recent disclosure by Power Minister Milind Naik during the State Legislative Assembly session that the underground power cabling would be done at a cost of Rs. 20,000 crore for the entire State, will be a complete wastage of funds.
Such a huge project needs to be well studied before any final decision is taken. This includes the logistics, import of materials like equipments, consumables, man power, type of terrain, slopes, land to be acquired, if the alignment of laying the pipelines needs to be diverted or notified for acquisition, discussion with other departments/agencies if rerouting needs to be done, etc..etc. Just shooting up the figure by saying Rs. 20,000 crores is perhaps, just firing bullets in the air.
I presume that the Power Minister might not be aware of the technicalities involved, in this whole exercise of underground cabling. I have seen them personally laying down the cables at Dona Paula and Caranzalem. The work executed by the contractor was haphazard and random as he seemed to have no plans available with him on site. Also the materials used were substandard. I have with me the video pictures of these underground cabling. The depth at certain places is just less than a meter and not uniformly maintained. The PWD tender was also not as descriptive as it should have been.
I also observed that there was no regular supervision checks by the PWD engineers and I was also personally informed by the contractor that no map was issued to him for the tendered work.
The project which is almost completed, will surely have some bad effects when the High Tension cables are been charged or commissioned with the Power Station or at Substation of 11 KV or 33 KV lines. The Power Minister should not attempt to get the project for the whole of Goa cleared, but first to have a pilot project at a area of their choice and wait for the outcome . Otherwise the whole expenditure incurred will be of wastage and shall have a bad impact on the BJP Government. This should be well discussed and planned at a high engineering level.
Regarding “dedicated cables” mentioned by him, I do not understand what he meant. Will he be able to give its specifications and cost of these special cables?