From Anil Nair in Mumbai
The power play in Maharashtra has tripped. The state is in the grip of an unprecedented power shortage. There are riots all across the state as people attack electricity board officials in response to the long hours of power cuts. The state Chief Minister Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh shamelessly declared on national television that the state has not sanctioned any new power project in the last ten years which had led to this situation. Logically, this announcement should have preceded his resignation for dereliction of duty. The Congress party of Smt. Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh and the Nationalist Congress Party of Shri Sharad Pawar in their manifesto promised free power to the farmers during the Assembly elections, after having seen the effect of such populism during the earlier Lok Sabha elections in states like Andhra Pradesh. The two parties reaped the benefit as people gave them a decisive victory. Today, leave aside free power, people across Maharashtra are violently protesting against the half-a-day load-shedding. There are three serious issues involved here?the irresponsibility of the political parties in promising free power to influential sections of the society; the treatment of the electricity consumers; and the effect of gross mismanagement of the state government on the economic development of the state.
The first question which comes to mind is: Can the Congress and the NCP which vied with each other to make the promise of free power to farmers be taken to task for false promises? When they knew that the power situation in the state was so bad, why did they make promises to give free power? The effect of the power shortage arising out of the state government'sincompetence on the industry and the economy fronts has not even been calibrated. That could severely dent the dream run that the corporate sector in Maharashtra has been having in the last one year.
The Chief Minister has asked people to be patient and wait till the rains. As Union Science and Technology Minister, Kapil Sibal has predicted a normal monsoon this year, the government does not seem to be much worried about the ongoing protests across the state. ??There is no major election in the state till June, by which time the rains will have solved all the problems. People'smemory is short, and once the problem gets resolved naturally, the political parties will not have to be accountable,?? a top MSEB official explained.
The moribund Shiv Sena meanwhile, has found a live issue to relaunch its party. The Sena has received support from people wherever they have organised protests, be it in Pune, Nagpur, Amravati or Akola. Drinking water is now available only for two hours every week in rural Maharashtra, as there is no power to pump water. Only a few weeks ago the state government had signed MoUs with eight Indian private power companies to produce 12,500 MW of power in the next three years. Though no one in the state government is clear about the time limit, the industry does not seem to be much enthused about such agreements. ??These agreements don'tmean anything. It was more a publicity stunt of a government which has been cornered for incompetence,?? said Anil Gachke, vice-president, Maharashtra Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.
Maharashtra gripped by power crisis, CM admits to folly
The statistics produced by industry associations have been revealing: Maharashtra has only been able to buy power from Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh to meet the shortfall. The demand has shot up by at least 5,000 MW, i.e. about 10 per cent annually in the last 10 years. The capacity augumentation has only been about 400 MW! MSEB chairman, Jayant Kawale, admitted that no new power project has come up in the last 10 years in the state, which has led to the current desperate situation. The demand for power in the state has seen an annual growth of 12 per cent as industrial growth has been about 7.5 per cent. The transmission and distribution losses (read power thefts and illegal connections by farmers and industry) in Maharashtra has been about 35 per cent. Though it was envisaged that this loss will be curtailed down to 26 per cent, no such thing has happened, predicably not when the government has promised free power to farmers. Each percentage of distribution losses can save the state Rs 120 crore annually, according to industry estimates. All this when the plant load factor has been historically high in MSEB plants?about 76.6 per cent. The farmers are not alone to be blamed for the transmission and distribution losses. Of the total annual loss of Rs 8,500 crore in T&D, the co-operatives run by politicians and corporates like Ispat Industries, Lloyd Steel, Modern Mills, Dhule Textiles and others account for the outstanding payments of about Rs 5,500 crore to the electricity board.
The MSEB has also been, in the midst of all this, trying to hike rates as it has paid over Rs 450 crore for the extra power it will buy between April and June from Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Gujarat charges
Rs 3.60 per unit while Andhra Pradesh charges a stiff Rs 5.36 per unit. The peak-time power supply from these states is even costlier. There are even better options of buying power from surplus states like Orissa, West Bengal and Sikkim but the old transmission lines of the state have limited carrying capacity from that region.
The two parties reaped the benefit as people gave them a decisive victory. Today, leave aside free power, people across Maharashtra are violently protesting against the half-a-day load-shedding.
Juxtapose this with the situation in Gujarat. Gujarat is the only state in the country where you get three-phase uninterrupted power supply in urban and semi-urban areas. The rest of the 18,000 villages will get the benefit of uninterrupted power supply in the next three years. Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi during an RSS function at Vashi two weeks ago, said, ??When I promised 24-hour power supply during elections the Opposition laughed at me. After elections the Opposition members told me it was an impossible task. I told them that it is a very difficult task and that is why people voted for my party. If it were an easy thing, they would have voted for you,?? Narendra Modi told a wildly cheering crowd. Today people in Maharashtra are missing that kind of commitment from their state government.
The Chief Minister of Maharashtra has approached almost all the Chief Ministers in the country to tide over the power crisis. The Congress governments in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh have promised to help. According to a MSEB official, ??Both these states have promised about 700 MW to 800 MW during the day.?? But the additional supply would be available only till May 15. The Centre also does not want to abandon a Congress state government in a crisis. It has promised about 500 MW of power. But even as Union Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar tried to train his gun on the Godbole Committee for all the trials and tribulations that the state is undergoing currently, the Chief Minister came to the defence of Madhav Godbole, stating unambiguously that ??MSEB was responsible for not enhancing power generation and not any committee for wrong projection of demand.?? Sharad Pawar only ended up with a lot of egg on his face. But the latest order of the Nagpur bench of the Mumbai High Court that load shedding should also include Vashi and Thane areas has only made the government'stask that much more difficult. Both these areas are industrial hubs and any power cuts to these regions will mean a direct hit on the state'seconomy.