From the archives | Power: Groping in the dark - India Today Insight News

2022-08-20 11:16:08 By : Ms. Tina Tang

In New York city, some years ago, the entire power system broke down, an event so traumatic that the question “Where were you when the lights went out?” became a part of local folklore. Here, in contrast, the collapse· of a whole power grid - that ultimate nightmare of modern society - is almost a monthly occurrence. Late last fortnight, the, Gujarat grid was entirely knocked out, plunging the whole state in darkness-and fetching just a couple of paragraphs in the next day's newspapers. A few months ago, all of Uttar Pradesh was paralysed when the giant power station at Obra - the biggest in the country-caught fire: The flames raged for 48 hours, there was virtually no power anywhere in the state, and the consequent power cuts were as high as 80 per cent. Two units of 200 mw each were completely gutted, and three ' others seriously damaged.

Some weeks earlier, it had been Maharashtra's turn. A grid failure brought life in Bombay to a standstill as trains screeched to a halt, lifts in high-rise buildings stopped mid-floor, and tens of thousands of commuters were stranded in the dark till the suburban trains started moving again, three hours later. Similar disasters struck three times earlier in the western region, and two months ago in Calcutta as well. The Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), which feeds both West Bengal and Bihar, failed to maintain the frequency at which it is supposed to supply electricity. The Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC), shut off its own units to save them from damage that the dip in frequency could cause; and. in the inevitable domino effect, the West Bengal State Electricity Board did the same. Result: total breakdown, and a heightened crisis for a week.

Crisis is routine, breakdowns commonplace, and fires in power stations almost an everyday affair. The Obra fire last October went out of hand because, as it turned out, fires were a monthly occurrence there and no one took the initial warning seriously. Since then, there have been two more fires in the state's power stations: at Panki and Harduaganj. At the latter, three years ago, there had also been the extraordinary sight of a turbine flying out of its housing and going straight through the roof of the turbine generator hall. An emergency valve had failed to function.

A society known for its fatalistic acceptance of all calamities has somehow taken the power crisis too in its stride. If there is no power in the hospital to sterilise needles or give a blood transfusion, well, let the patients wait. If a couple of them die while waiting - as reportedly happened some months ago in Delhi's Jayaprakash Narayan Hospital there is still no anger. But the travails of a people that both have electricity and don't have it - perhaps the only such in the world - tell of a national scandal.

A.R. Meenakshi, a student at the "plus two" stage who shifted recently from Calcutta to Madras, has discovered that she still has to study by candle-light every now and then. And the proprietor of Becco Steel Castings Private Ltd in Bhilai has this record of one day at his factory last year: the power went off at 6.25 in the morning for 20 minutes, then at 8.30 for 25 minutes, then again at 10.30 for an hour, and at 12.30 for another hour. Going on through the day, there was a break in supply for 20 minutes after 1.40 p.m., an hour after 2.1 5, an hour and 25 minutes after 5.25, half an hour after 7.30,a further half-hour after 9.30, then briefly after 10 at night, and finally for 20 minutes after 11.10. Thus, 11 times during the day, there had been no power for a total period of over seven hours.

In Calcutta, M.C. Agarwal drives from his trading office in north Calcutta to his home in the south at lunch-time every day. But his flat is up on the 10th floor of a high-rise apartment complex, the lift is usually inoperative because there is no power, and Agarwal can't climb up because he is a heart patient. So, every now and then, his lunch is brought down to him, and he eats it in the car before driving back to work.

In Tamil Nadu, Mettur Chemicals has given up hoping that it will ever get enough power from the state electricity board to run its silicon manufacturing plant. So the whole plant will now be shifted to Andhra Pradesh, where there is no power shortage.

Across the country, farmers trudge out into their fields after dark and stay there till the morning, irrigating their fields with pump-sets that are supplied electricity only at night. In the village of Khatauli, 100 km east of Delhi in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar district, they have found a way out of this predicament: diesel generating sets are taken into the fields on bullock-carts in order to pump water. But elsewhere in the country, as in Rajasthan, they must be grateful for such small mercies as the announcement last month that power supply to the state's rural areas was being increased from four hours a day to five.

The power shortage is everywhere, an apparently unconquerable problem that disrupts everyday routine in millions of homes. Whether in Bhagalpur, Daltonganj, Rampur, Sambhal, Sasaram, or hundreds of other small , towns in the land, there is a power cut virtually every single day of the year.

It is now the country's No.1 economic problem, holding back industrial growth, forcing machines to lie idle, jobs to be lost, companies to fall "sick". In one three-month period last year, power cuts cost the Steel Authority of India Ltd a production loss estimated at Rs 180 crore - at a time when steel was being imported. In Karnataka, where there have been power cuts of up to 75 per cent this year, the President of the State Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tallam Nanjunda Shetty, estimates the loss of production last year at Rs 3,000 crore. Nationally, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCl) believes that a 10 per cent power shortage (which is normal) causes an annual production loss of Rs 7,000 crore. FICCI also quotes a World Bank study which says that the power shortage has reduce the annual economic growth rate by between 1 and 3 per cent in each of the last three years. In other words, the actually achieved economic growth rate of 3.5 per cent could well have been 50 to 100 per cent more if it had not been for the shortage of electricity.

If the problem were merely one of a shortage, it is probably that people could somehow adjust. But frequently, the crisis is compounded by the sheer unreliability of the system. There are either frequent trippings, as in the case of Becco Steel Castings, or no knowing in the morning whether power will be made available at all that day. Says Vinay Agarwal, president of the Bhopal Industries Association: "It is impossible to plan any schedule of work. You simply don't know when the next power cut will be, and how long it will last. It could be 10 minutes, or, five hours."

Also electricity is supposed to be supplied at 220 volts, and all equipment and appliances are built to take that load. All too often, however, the overloading of the whole system forces the voltage to drop. On a visit to the Badarpur thermal power station in Delhi, the meter showing the voltage level in the entire grid read 160 volts - a dangerously low level that could easily damage equipment. V. Sundararajan, Badarpur's general manager, confessed that his own refrigerator had burned out once because of such violent voltage fluctuations. And Vijay Kapur, general manager of the Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking (OESU), says the vol- tage level in summer is often 180 or 190.

Refrigerator motors burn out, companies plunge into the red, and heart patients slog up multiple flights of stairs, all because there is no power. Yet, there is in most places only a frustrated resignation, no anger. When the Haryana State Electricity Board told thousands of manufacturing units in the industrial town of Faridabad, outside Delhi, that power supply in May would be confined to the night hours, three days a week, even many women employees meekly found ways of reporting for work after dinner.

But this meek acceptance may not last. Last month, the Singhbhum Chamber of Commerce, the Udityapur Small Industries Association and the Singhbhum Industries Association formed a joint action committee to protest against the power crisis, and to stop paying electricity bills to the Bihar State Electricity Board if the situation did not improve. B.P. Gupta, president of the Bihar Chamber of Commerce, said a decision would be announced soon to stop payments throughout the state.

Bihar's anger is understandable. This year, even the Government's figures show that the power shortage in the state will average 40 per cent, peaking in one month to 47 per cent. Over the country as a whole, the shortage is estimated at just 6 per cent. Manageable, you might think, until you realise that surpluses in some sectors mask large shortages in others. A look at the statistical break-up shows that at various points in the year, Rajasthan will face a 45 per cent shortage, Orissa 35 per cent, and Karnataka 40 per cent. Over the full year, Jammu & Kashmir will suffer a 33 per cent power shortage, Uttar Pradesh 20 per cent, Karnataka 27 per cent, and Orissa 25 per cent. If there are breakdowns, or a shortfall against the targeted generation as is usually the case - the power shortage will be much greater.

This grim picture is likely to get grimmer. In Haryana, says the state's electricity board, the present shortage of 817 mw will double by the end of the decade to 1,631 mw. In Delhi, a pampered capital where there is virtually no shortage now, there could be a shortage of 600 mw in another six years. In Madhya Pradesh, the gap between demand and supply is expected to double from 350 mw to 700 mw. And Punjab's Power Commissioner, Tejendra Khanna, says: "Even if we complete five projects on time, and get our full share of power from the central projects at Bairasiul (in Himachal Pradesh), Salal and Singrauli (Uttar Pradesh), the shortage in 1990 will be 19 per cent." If all the power that these projects hold promise of does not materialise, the shortage could be 30 per cent and more.

Yet, there is no reason why this should be the case, for power capacity has increased almost beyond belief in the last three decades. In 1950, the country had an installed capacity of only 2,300 mw, against over 40,000 mw now. Only 3,000 villages had electricity then, against 3.4 lakh now. There were only 1.5 million power connections then, against some 30 million now. Electric power has grown faster than all other forms of energy, and much faster than either industry or agriculture. Generating capacity grew by 12 per cent in the 1950s, II per cent in the 1960s, and 7 per cent in the 1970s against an average annual economic growth in the last decade of no more than 3.5 per cent. And power is now the single biggest item of plan investment - 20 per cent of the total. Yet, the power shortages have grown and now become endemic.

One reason for this is that the state electricity boards have sanctioned loads far in excess of their capacity to supply power. Some, like Haryana, raced to the target of becoming the first state in the country to electrify all their villages. Others promised power that they did not have to industrialists in an effort to attract their investments. And, over the years, demand steadily outpaced supply. In 1950, the sanctioned load was barely 20 per cent more than the generating capacity - a manageable situation since the full load is not always simultaneously used. But now, the sanctioned load is 100 per cent more than installed capacity, with capacity utilisation itself being no more than 50 per cent.

Having created the problem, the boards have compounded it with the arbitrary methods of a monopoly supplier. In most states, the boards slap on a minimum charge, irrespective of whether power is supplied or not. And the Central India Board Products in Madhya Pradesh was presented late last year with fuel adjustment charges of Rs 1.85 lakh for the year 1980-81 - at a time when the company had already finalized its accounts for that year, and for 1980-81, as well as for 1981-82 and 1982-83.

To take another case, Goodyear India wanted a second power feeder line to its tyre factory at Ballabhgarh in Haryana, but the state electricity board was not prepared to pay for it. Anxious to have a stand-by line in case the only existing line ever failed, the company paid more than Rs 1 lakh to get the second line installed. But soon enough the electricity board transferred the line to another industrial connection. And Goodyear found that it could do nothing about it. Under the law, the line belonged to the board even though the company had paid for it.

Any attempt to understand the reasons for a problem of such enormous magnitude must lead to a study of the organisations primarily responsible for providing the power: the state electricity boards. And here the discovery is quickly made that if anyone is in a more helpless state than the consumer of electricity, it is the producer of electricity.

The boards could keep a brigade of management consultants busy for the next decade, analysing the myriad problems and searching for solutions. Most of them are financially bankrupt, project management is so weak that projects are unconscionably delayed, capacity utilisation in the completed projects is horrendously low, there are technical , problems with their equipment, the coal they get to fire their boilers is probably the worst in the world, there are too many employees and too few who actually work, and they are under such pressure to keep their machines running that even normal maintenance work has to be skipped- causing still more downstream problems. Through all this, there is constant political .interference, preventing any professionalised systems of functioning from coming into force.

With a few honourable exceptions like Gujarat, all the boards are neck-deep in debt: well over Rs 1,000 crore have been totted up in losses-at last count. Most of them do not have the money for normal operational expenses, and have to borrow from the Government of their state. P.K. Dasgupta, member (finance) of the West Bengal State Electricity Board, says: "Revenue can be raised if generation is raised. But where are the funds for added generation?" In Delhi, the railways confiscated Rs 551akh worth of cement that they were hauling to the Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking, because the DESU hadn't paid them demurrage charges.

If money is a weak point, project management is another. One estimate says that of the last 50 projects completed by the state electricity boards, only two were commissioned on time. The Kolaghat project in West Bengal, for instance, got under way in 1974. The first unit is being finally commissioned next month - six years late.

A variety of river water disputes have meanwhile held up innumerable hydel projects, so that barely 10 per cent of the total hydel potential has been tapped so far. Even when work is completed, as in the case of a thermal plant at Ropar, water disputes can make their presence felt: a failure to settle inter-state differences over the supply of Bhakra canal water to cool the station caused a five-month delay in commissioning.

Further problems arise once the projects are completed. Under ideal conditions, a thermal power' station should be able to generate at a steady 63 per cent of its capacity, after making sufficient allowances for maintenance requirements. In 1980, the Committee on Power laid down a more lenient standard: 58 per cent capacity utilisation. As against this, the national average has been less than 50 per cent in all years of the last decade, barring two. Not a single board hit the 58 percent figure last year. Indeed, in the entire eastern region, including West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, and Assam, capacity utilisation last year was 35 per cent' or less. Uttar Pradesh and Haryana also fell in the same category, and individual power stations such as the one at' Santaldih in West Bengal dipped as low as 27 per cent.

Santaldih is a classic case of the chaos that prevails in the country's power stations. On any given day, only two of the station's four 120 mw units are likely to be running. Worker indiscipline is rampant: on three separate occasions the authorities have tried to install punching systems to ensure that people clock in on time. On each occasion, angry workers have damaged the equipment; or, having punched in, have not shown up at their work stations a'1d the engineers in charge have been too terrified to complain.

Overtime bills are sometimes paid for up to 23 hours of workday. Drivers who get Rs 1,100 in their normal pay packet make three times that amount as overtime payment. Employees in the plant insist on working through the lunch break (on overtime), then take time off to eat, and are back at work after 5 claim more overtime. Yet, precious little gets done. For seven years, sludge collected in the fuel oil storage tanks because no one both6ted to clean them. The oil level in the tanks was therefore recorded as being far more than was actually the case. And one day, without warning, the oil ran out. The 480 mw power station had to shut down completely for three days, forcing a major crisis in an already problem-ridden state.

The problem at Santaldih and other power stations in West Bengal traces back, in some measure, to the wholesale enrolment of the politically faithful by the last Congress(l) government in the state, employees who are now beyond all control. A similar intransigence was on display in Delhi last year, when engineers refused to set right a system that had gone on the blink, holding out for 12 hours during which the capital went without power, because their demands had not been met. In Bihar, the labour problem takes on yet another hue: the board has its hands virtually tied by court action from employees who aim to prevent the direct recruitment of engineers, demanding instead that they be given ' promotions even if they do not have the minimum required qualifications.

N. Tata Rao, the trenchantly outspoken chairman of the Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board, summed it up at a conference on training power station staff two months ago. He said: "The people who need to be trained are not the staff so much as the MLAs and MPs who insist that all manlier of unqualified people be employed in the power stations."But most board chairmen have given in to pressures from politicians. The result: for every megawatt of installed capacity, the boards on average employ seven people. The international norm is less than two. Not surprisingly, the wage bill alone in some boards eats up 40 per cent of the revenue.

If some of that money should logically be billed to the politicians, they should also be asked to pay for the huge losses suffered by the boards on supplying power to farmers. A World Bank study by .P.D. Henderson shows that 10 years ago, farmers in almost all the states paid a higher electricity tariff than industry. The national average for agricultural power was 15 paise, against 10 paise for industry. Today, the farmer pays virtually the same rate as he did then, some, times less: 12 paise in Tamil Nadu. In contrast, industry is charged up to 70 paise per unit. The losses suffered on this alone come to as much as Rs 100 crore in some states. Maharashtra and a few others compensate the boards through a budgetary subsidy, but in general the boards pay for the Goverment's reluctance to charge a reasonable tariff.

The boards are often helpless in the face of other problems like poor equipment, and worse coal. One member of the Maharashtra State Electricity Board said bitterly that "our complaints about the equipment given to .us by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) will fill 800 pages". And virtually every power station manager points to the terrible quality of coal that is supplied to them by Coal India Ltd (CIL). At a recent face- off between the boards and CIL, the chairman of the Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board threatened to display a three-tonne lump of coal that had been supplied to him.

At the same meeting, CIL Chairman M.S. Gujral and Tata Rao - both equally outspoken men - got into a straight slanging-match on the quality of coal. Gujral finally ended the debate declaring: "Muck is what I have, and muck is at you will get." He had a point: Indian coal is high ash coal, and there is precious little he can do about it. But Tata Rao, speaking before this particular incident, blamed the problems of stations on two factors: BHEL'S .virtual monopoly on equipment supply, and CIL’s monopoly on coal. Says Tata Rao: "Before coal-mining was nationalised, the coal control order defined coal as having an ash limit of 35 per cent. If the ash content was higher, it was not considered coal. But today we have to accept even 50 per cent ash content. I defy anyone in the world to get power from such coal."

The BHEL problem began with the acquisition of Soviet and Czech technology in the 1960s, because of the attraction of payment in rupees. BHEL immediately ran into a host of technical snags, and a study in 1980 by the committee on Power showed imported sets functioning at 50 per cent better capacity than BHEL'S. Since then, the company has made a determined effort to deal more efficiently with customer complaints, to iron out basic technical defects, and finally to acquire more modern German technology. But even in recent months there have been close to a dozen cases of hydrogen leaking from the cooling system of the generator. Of the five BHEL sets installed at the National Thermal Power Corporation's giant station at Singrauli in Uttar Pradesh three have run into this headache, apart from others in Maharashtra, Gujarat and elsewhere. Singrauli General Manager M.L. Malik estimates that, in the last one year alone, he lost 2,000 million units of power on this account: a staggering loss of Rs 80 crore in revenue.

Nevertheless, B.S. Samat, BHEL's director (power), is right when he says that the performance of his company's equipment has improved vastly. Samat points out that " out of 43.200 mw sets of ours that are running, 19 worked at more than 58 per cent of capacity last year, and 12 sets did more than 70 per cent".

But the electricity boards cannot get away by blaming all their problems on the suppliers of equipment' and raw material. In most of the boards, there is no professionalism, corruption is rampant, over-manning is a disease, arid political interference a daily fact of life. Basic tasks like staff training are habitually ignored: a plant at Kota was due for commissioning some time ago, with no trained staff to run it. And in a system that is constantly stretched to the limit because of the pressure to feed a hungry system, even normal maintenance gets the go-by. Boilers in thermal plants are supposed to be overhauled every year, but most run for three years before they are taken down. Turbine-generator sets are supposed to be overhauled once in three years, so that one-third of all the sets in the country should be" taken down every year. But in some years the number of sets overhauled has been no more than one in 14.

The failure to do timely overhauls has meant that unscheduled outages have doubled in frequency over the years. Everyone realises that delaying maintenance

work is very short-term wisdom, but in a situation of constant power cuts no one wants to deliberately shut down a set until it is unavoidable. A senior Central Government official confessed last fortnight: "Right now, one of the units at Badarpur needs maintenance work quite urgently. But we have asked them to keep running the se t, even at partial capacity, because otherwise there will be a shortage in Delhi."

The usual inefficiency of the boards then compounds the problem. Normally, boiler overhaul should take only 28 days; in one recent year, the average time taken turned out to be 68 days. And turbine-generator sets that should be worked over in 45 days, take 126 days to overhaul.

If delayed overhauls are one fallout of the shortage syndrome, inter-state squabbles are another. Uttar Pradesh is supposed to pass on some of the power generated at Singrauli to Delhi, Punjab and Haryana. but will not do so. Andhra

Pradesh is supposed to give some of the power generated at Ramagundam, another central station, to Karnataka, but keeps all the electricity to itself. On the one day that power was passed on, Karnataka Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde made the mistake of announcing it to the press. The next day, there was uproar in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, the Government was hauled over the coals, and power stopped flowing to Karnataka. In yet a third instance, Tamil Nadu refuses to share with any other state the power generated at the new Kalpakkam atomic station. And Orissa once refused to link its power transmission grid with that of neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, for fear of that state gaining access to Orissa's cheap hydel power. Today, the boot is on the other foot: Orissa desperately needs power, Madhya Pradesh is occasionally in a position to supply it, but there is no grid link to make this possible. Finally, Delhi must always get all the power it needs; so it draws at random from all the surrounding states in order to ensure that the capital city's residents do not suffer. Says an official in the capital: "The whole system is chaotic. We could mitigate some of the worst shortages if the power is shared equally, but none of the states will cooperate."

One way out would be for the Centre to control all the transmission lines and substations. But this is impossible when electricity comes under the Constitution's concurrent list, making it the responsibility of both the Centre and the states.

In any case, as yet another fall-out of the shortage syndrome, most investment in the power sector has gone into creating fresh generating capacity, so that investment in transmission systems has suffered heavily. In the first four years of the current five-year plan, only 40 per cent of the targeted 5,893 km of 400 kv transmission lines have been laid, and barely half of the targeted 21,175 km of 220 kv lines. This, is the case even though the targets themselves were slashed by 25 per cent because of a shortage of funds.

If the shortage syndrome has prompted many states to take power into their own hands, consumers are following suit. It is now normal practice almost everywhere for industrialists to bribe power distribution staff in order to ensure that they escape from the rigours of power cuts; and much of the stolen power is passed off as transmission losses (abnormally high at over 20 per cent, instead of being less than 15 per cent). At a meeting organised by FICCI a few months ago, a ripple of laughter spread through the hall when K.C. Pant, chairman of the Energy Advisory Board, referred pointedly to the high transmission losses. And DESU General Manager Vijay Kapur says that in a recent check on 650 consumers in one part of the capital, no fewer than ?50 were found to be misusing their power connections. In Bihar, ,349 raids over the last two years caught 1,876 offenders, and the official in charge says senior electricity board staff were often revealed to be accomplices.

Farmers have caught on equally fast: since they are charged a flat tariff depending on the horsepower (HP) of their pump-sets, it is now common practice to install 10 HP sets with a lower 5 HP rating shown on the manufacturer's name-plate. The inevitable result of these increasingly common malpractices is that the load on the system is far greater than expected, voltage drops, or load-shedding has to be resorted to. And as usual the customer complaints mount.

Will the complaints ever cease? In a determined effort to get rid of the power shortage once and for all, the Government now plans a hefty 80 per cent increase in generation over the Seventh Five Year-Plan, the objective being to raise power availability from 154 billion units this year to 280 billion units by 1989-90. Fresh capacity to be added is pegged at over 27,000 MW, and investment over the five years at a staggering Rs 67,000 crore-partly to make up for the weaknesses of the transmission system, and partly to make a start on new projects that will fructify in subsequent plans.

But it remains to be seen whether the money can be found, and whether this massive expansion of the power system will eventually take place. Ambitions had soared even higher in an earlier plan, when a 90 per cent increase in capacity was aimed at, only to finally end up with barely half that target achieved.

Will things work better this time around? Among the consumers at least, there is now little hope of seeing any improvement. In Calcutta, where the power crisis is now in its twelfth year, virtually everyone who can afford to has invested in inverter systems that form little power packs of their own, sufficient to light a bulb and turn a fan. The sale of portable generators has also become a flourishing business: some 65,000 of Japanese make 'are estimated to have come in during the last three or four years, and Yamaha now plans to start the manufacture of these generators in India, in collaboration with a local partner.

Like the household purchasers of generator sets, most industrialists too are planning to go it on their own, refusing to believe that things will ever get better. Companies across the country are installing captive generation equipment even if this means a huge outlay and a running cost that is double that of what they have to pay the boards for every unit of power they consume. Fizz Drinks, a soft drink bottling company outside Delhi, is installing its own generator even though this adds to its total investment by a hefty 40 per cent. "I have no choice," says company proprietor Vinay Rai, "because summer is the season of peak demand, and also the time when the power shortage is at its worst."

Goodyear India has run its plant at Ballabhgarh, for some years with 40 per cent captive generation capacity. But last year, there was no power for 131 days out of 365. And last May there was no power for 340 hours out of the total 744 hours in the month. For all the remaining hours, there were drastic curbs on how much power the company could actually draw. Power would also get cut off mid-way through the processing of rubber, causing enormous wastage of raw materials and a jamming of machines. The company is now installing 100 per cent captive power ability. Says Managing Director Hardev Singh: "It is costing us heavily. But no lanterns on sale ill Calcutta matter what the cost, it is cheaper than having no power at all.”

S. Venkatramanan, 'power secretary in the Central Government, estimates that the captive power capacity in the country now totals 3,000 mw. That is 7 per cent of the national total.

A further 2,500 mw of captive 'capacity has been cleared by the Government, and more applications are in the pipeline.

Pressure has also been building up to allow the private sector a greater role in power generation. FICCl and other representative spokesmen for the private sector have repeatedly pointed out that private power stations -the Tatas' in Trombay, the Birlas' at Renusagar in Uttar Pradesh, or the Ahmedabad Electricity Company have consistently performed far better than those run by the public sector electricity boards. This is true, but it is not the whole truth: the Vijayawada station in Andhra Pradesh, or the Tuticorin station in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, have a record that compares perfectly well with any of those run by the private sector. Also, the private sector has had the advantage of getting better fuel, imported equipment, and an assured, steady load, all of which make for better operating conditions. Said the chairman of one electricity board: "If they give us the same conditions, we can deliver results just as well."

That seems to be the judgement of the Government as well.: For though it has welcomed a greater private sector role in power generation, and recently cleared the Tatas' proposal for a second 500 mw unit at Trombay, none of the other proposals has met with official favour. A consortium led by the Kotharis in Madras has proposed leasing 200 mw sets from abroad, while' some other half-formed proposals- totalling 1,250 mw capacity - have also stipulated importing the equipment plus drawing on public sector sources for financing the investment.

The Government has insisted, however, that those who want to set up power stations must put in their own money. Other than the Tatas, no one else has managed to do this so far. And a private sector solution to the' crisis seems unlikely.

Any healthy electric supply system needs at least 20 per cent reserve power: In India, far from a 20 per cent surplus; there is probably a 20 per cent shortage. This has firs t to be made up, then fresh capacity created to meet the 10 to 15 per cent annual growth in demand, and after that the reserve capacity created. With thermal projects taking a minimum of four years, and hydel projects a minimum of eight, any action that starts today to reach this goal will take a long time to give results.

But with the private sector's role strictly circumscribed, the electricity boards unable to set their house in order, overall capacity utilisation in the system unlikely to rise, and a question mark hanging over how much money the Government can spare for power, the future looks bleak. And the Indian economy is likely to remain short-circuited.

(The report was published in the INDIA TODAY July 15, 1984 issue)

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