In less than a month since taking charge of the Power Department, Minister Nilesh Cabral has hinted at a 10 to 20 percent hike in the electricity tariff. He has, however, qualified this by stating that the hike will come into effect once the power infrastructure has been upgraded. It will be unthinkable on the part of the government and unacceptable to the people if the electricity tariff is hiked without any improvement in the supply system. But there is no deadline placed for the upgrading of the power infrastructure. Since this government still has close to three and a half years to go before an election, a reasonable timeframe by which the department intends to have the infrastructure upgraded is definitely called for.
This is one department that provides the people with a service 24 hours a day, and perhaps is the most reviled of all departments for the quality of its services. Cabral has a big challenge ahead of him if he intends to make qualitative changes in the department. In May, Herald had said that the Power Department needed to be revamped – electrified if it was to serve the people – and that this could only be done by a Minister who could inspire change and bring the best out of the employees. For months after that the department was managed by a minister who was on the sickbed. It has now been entrusted into a fresh pair of hands, but Cabral will have to work hard to turn it around.
Beginning with the white paper on the department’s functioning with details of planning, shortcomings, and execution of various projects that he has promised within 45 days, the new minister has taken the right step. Much will, however, depend if that white paper can indeed be released within the deadline that has been announced, for the Power Department is not known for its efficiency or its speed. Take this for instance, one of the measures that Cabral has announced, or rather has reiterated is that underground cabling will be laid throughout the State. This is to be done in a phased manner either through a joint venture or on PPP model. The fact that the government is still unsure of the manner in which the project will be undertaken means that this isn’t going to happen so soon.
Yet, underground cabling is needed and needed now, as it will put an end to a number of the outages and shutdowns that occur due to falling branches and trees on overhead wires. In May this year, a sudden thunderstorm had thrown the electricity supply out of gear for hours, with some villages in South Goa going without power for up to 44 hours and this had caused an estimated loss to the department of Rs 25 to Rs 30 crore. The reason proffered by the department was the winds sending trees crashing down on the wires. Five months after that little storm, the department appears to have made no progress on underground cabling which will end such power disruptions.
The Power Minister and the Electricity Department be advised that the people will not accept a hike in tariff unless there is a corresponding improvement in the service. The department’s addition to the power bill due to the Fuel Power Purchase & Cost Adjustment (FPPCA) charges have led to protests by the people, who see no reason to pay extra, when the power supply they are receiving has not improved. For a 10 to 20 percent hike in the power tariff to be acceptable, it would require a major improvement of the supply and service. The department cannot expect to shock the people with a huge bill, unless it gives them something in return.