Dharmendra Jore: BJP's power struggle

Oct 09, 2017, 06:18 IST | Dharmendra Jore

The BJP government in the state is saddled with a more 'current' issue – that of electricity deficit

For BJP, the wind is blowing the other way. Fighting on multiple fronts to neutralize negative public opinion on demonetization, Goods and Services Tax (GST), rising inflation, a perennial agrarian crisis and several other issues, the governments in the Centre and especially in Maharashtra, are now faced with an acute electricity deficit. The state, which became power surplus after an unprecedented struggle over the last one decade, is back to square one.

Why is this happening all of a sudden? At this point in time, a definite reason is the result of ill planning and management by the Union Coal Ministry, Maharashtra Energy Department and state-controlled electricity generation and distribution companies. It's not just the government companies that have suffered, but private generators in Maharashtra are also blaming the coal-crisis for reducing electricity production considerably.

Tall claims, but...
When Piyush Goyal, a Mumbaikar, took charge as power and coal minister in Delhi in mid-2014, the power crisis in Maharashtra was on its way to recovery. Having one individual to handle power and coal ministry was seen as a masterstroke, because India's electricity generation largely depends on coal-fired thermal generation stations.

The UPA-1 and UPA-2 had seen the worst on this front and put in place a long-term plan for expanding by leaps and bounds. But there were serious issues such as the Coalgate scam, which hindered that growth. The BJP government said it had inherited problems from the UPA regime. It vowed to better coal production and improve power production, so much so, that no household in the country would remain without an electricity connection.

To increase coal supply, Goyal's ministry came up with a policy of rationalizing supply linkages. It so happened that in auctions, some states were allotted coal from mines that were far off, while coal was available at a much shorter distance, either within that state itself or in neighbouring states. Rationalization would take fuel faster to the plants and also save cost of transportation. A provision for swapping coal between companies also helped. However, while quicker transportation remained a major worry, the policy was tweaked and coal-carrying trains started getting priority on railway tracks. Yet, Maharashtra and other states are in dire straits. Has planning gone haywire despite tall claims of execution?

Three years later, the opposition is making charges against the government by saying that the shortage is being created with the sole purpose of allowing a BJP sympathiser to import coal mined abroad by his company. India has the fifth largest coal reserve in the world. But even then, our coal production falls short of actual requirements and India needs to import it. Why? It's time the government responds to allegations.

Scurrying for cover
Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL) set a record of sorts this March by supplying an all-time high of 24,000 mega watts to its consumers. Four months later, the same company is scurrying for cover as the government is under attack. Energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule has blamed everything on coal suppliers, whereas the Western Coalfields Limited (WLC), which supplies the state generation company half of its total coal requirement, has refuted allegations.

WLC says coal supply has been uninterrupted in the past three months, and it is the state company's responsibility to carry coal faster to the plants. It's not as if WCL and state have confronted each other for the first time. In the Congress-NCP regime, the two have fought a fierce legal battle over the same issues when the state was reeling under prolonged power outages.

Generation officials say that despite several orders by courts, National Green Tribunal and Competition Commission, WCL continues to supply inferior quality coal to power utilities. If so, then, why is Bawankule not taking this up to the bosses in Delhi? Why is CM Devendra Fadnavis, who was on the forefront in attacking the Congress-NCP's failure in managing the power crisis, not getting Goyal to rap WCL?

The irony of power
Irony is that Bawankule, who once boasted about making Maharashtra power surplus, is now appealing to people to save power because his supply is insufficient. It is beyond comprehension that the four-time MLA, who had understood energy department much before he began heading it, because his family firms have been working in the electricity sector for long, did not foresee the problem. If the minister couldn't see it coming, what were babus in the company and Mantralaya doing? Some 14 state plants are currently shut.

Bawankule is known for punishing officials at the drop of a hat. He once suspended a junior-level employee for wearing sunglasses and a pair of jeans on duty. But we don't see any action coming in now because it isn't any minnow involved this time, but it's a host of guys at the top - politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats included.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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