JUST like a neighbour coming to borrow a few spoonful of sugar or milk, India went round with a bowl to Bhutan for some electricity this week. As the TV channels almost boastingly belted out, India had the largest power outages in the world—largest because of the number of people and area affected. Trains stopped, machines fell silent, millions of people were struck in their travel, homes and workplaces. And till today, the government has not given a sensible reason other than vaguely blaming a few state governments. Nor has it given an assessment of financial losses.
A huge system failure such as these, in any other country would have earned punishment to those in power. But under the UPA leadership, the man at the helm was rewarded. He was shifted out of power ministry, in the peak of crisis to hold charge of an even more important portfolio—the internal security of the nation. Sushil Kumar Shinde got away after pushing the power sector of India into a deeper abyss than it was when he took over six years ago, in 2006. He is the one who is most responsible for the latest power failure, for, he has been in the ministry long enough. The man who started his life at the bottom of the line in the home ministry—as a police constable—today heads the ministry. And the terrorists welcomed him in style with serial blasts in his home state.
According to government’s own admission, it is falling short of the target in power production in the 11th five-year plan (2007-12) by at least 7000 MW. The target was 62,374 MW. It is now believed that the actual production would not cross 55,000 Mw (Business Standard, June 23, 2010). This too is only an estimate. One of the major reasons given is the lack of coal supplies. This is very interesting, because, the CAG has unearthed a huge scam involving the distribution of coal mines, without any norms and regulations. The government also imported coal for supply. And yet, neither was sufficient to feed the power plants. Nearly fifty per cent of the upcoming coal projects have been either delayed or shelved, with investors losing interest.
Throughout the summer months, all over the country, people suffered long hours of power cuts because the governments could not meet the demand even as power tariffs climbed north. In several areas small units closed down as the erratic supply of power made their existence unsustainable. It is not a situation that developed overnight. The Central government and the power ministry knew fully well that India has been performing poorly on power generation.
It is being accused that the government imported cheap power equipments from China that had no quality control. As pointed out by a former Secretary in the ministry, power generation is as important as power storage, transmission and distribution. When bad equipments are used, it results in such a huge loss of power. While foreign countries have sought advice from Indian technical people on power, the Indian government has been ignoring their recommendations and suggestions. Without an effective monitoring, inspecting mechanism, the precious power generated has been wasted because of bad management and worse equipments.
Shinde, who patted his own back and labelled himself as “an excellent” power minister even boasted that the power generation in India has gone up during his term. It is a bluff. It is under his term that the sector has not achieved its target and it has been revised downward. But then Shinde need not worry. He walks in and out of senior positions as minister, chief minister, Rajya Sabha MP, and governor with the blessings of the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, whose campaign manager he was in Amethi in her first election in 1999. At least, Shinde knows where ‘power’ flows from.
Since under Manmohan Singh nobody is accountable for anything that is happening in the country, the culprits, bad managers and under achievers go unpunished. Appointing P. Chidambaram again as Finance Minister even as he continues to be a suspect in a fraud on the nation in the 2G case, is yet another proof of the Prime Minister’s complicity in corruption. In governance there is no ‘personal’ corruption and public corruption. Any action by a public servant that brings harm to the nation, be it politically, economically, socially or morally, is deemed as dishonest. In that, Manmohan Singh’s account book is brimming. Shinde and Chidambaram are but pages in that book.