With BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi aggressively pushing the âGujarat model of developmentâ as his USP in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, who also fancies himself a contender for the top post or at least hopes to play kingmaker, has been forced to promise the moon to the people of Uttar Pradesh. In a bid to project a âpro-developmentâ image, Mulayam has said that his party will ensure 24×7 power supply to every nook and cranny of the state by 2016.
As Uttar Pradesh is the most power-starved state in the country and accounts for around 40 percent of Indiaâs total power deficit, according to the Central Electricity Authorityâs latest report, experts dismiss Mulayamâs promise as a âcrude jokeâ. âIt wonât be possible to fulfil this promise even after 10 years,â says Shailendra Dube, former chief engineer (planning) of the UP Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL) and currently secretary general of the All India Power Engineers Federation.
While the present installed capacity of the UP State Thermal Power Generation Corporation is 4,022 MW, the already restricted demand for power in the state exceeds 9,000 MW. This gap is filled by imposing power cuts ranging from 8 to 16 hours, even after purchasing around 4,000 MW from the Central grid and the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). Making matters worse is that more than 45 percent of the power produced is lost in transmission before it reaches the users. No wonder, the UPPCL had accumulated losses to the tune of Rs 43,000 crore as of last March.
âMulayam is aware of the situation on the ground, and yet he made this promise,â says Dube, warning that the state government could be preparing the ground for a âbig scamâ, wherein it will purchase power at exorbitant rates from independent power producers in the private sector. âThey have already floated tenders for the purchase of 6,000 MW in the next 25 years.â
In a presentation made before Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in March 2012, the UPPCL claimed that the demand for power is estimated to reach 20,498 MW in 2016, while the availability will be 21,765 MW. However, the CM was also told that the demand had been estimated assuming there will be 24-hour power supply only for Lucknow, Agra and Noida, while the other big cities will get electricity for 20 hours a day, the district and divisional headquarters for 16 hours, and the rural areas, only for 8 hours â a far cry from Mulayamâs promise of 24×7 power supply across the state.
As per the 18th Electric Power Survey by the Union Ministry of Power, the total demand in Uttar Pradesh is expected to touch 23,081 MW by March 2017. The UPPCL claims that 27,340 MW will be available in the state by then, with new power plants set up both by the public and the private sector. But these projects are yet to take off.
For instance, two public sector thermal power plants with a capacity of 1,320 MW each were planned to be established in Sonabhadra district, but have been denied environmental clearance by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. According to the green ministry, the district located in the southeastern corner of the state is grappling with extreme pollution caused by the thermal power plants already operating there.
Another 6,620 MW of power generation capacity was proposed to be added during the current Five-Year Plan period (2012-17) through four private sector thermal power plants. However, none of these will be operational by 2017 as the basic spadework is yet to begin and it usually takes more than four years from the date of commissioning of work for a thermal power plant to start generating power.
Though the UPPCL has also signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) with seven private developers for constructing power plants that would produce a total of 6,380 MW, none of them have commenced work yet. All the projects are held up for lack of assured supplies of fuel (coal) and problems in acquisition of land. These agreements were signed between 2008 and 2011 when the Mayawati- led Bahujan Samaj Party was in power, and their validity was set to expire in three years. In June 2012, the newly elected Akhilesh Yadav government extended the validity of the agreements by 18 months. As that extension period too has expired now, the UP State Electricity Regulatory Commission has issued notice to all the developers, threatening to cancel the agreements because of the delay.
âThus, even as 15,640 MW of additional power generation capacity remains only on paper,â says Dube, âthe UPPCL continues to claim that 21,765 MW will be available by 2016.â
The only project that has seen some progress on the ground is the 1,980 MW thermal power plant being set up by a Bajaj Group company in Lalitpur district. The group has already invested 3,000 crore in the Lalitpur-I project. Besides, the UP Thermal Power Generation Corporation is setting up two thermal power plants as joint ventures: one, a 1,980 MW plant near Kanpur, in collaboration with the Neyveli Lignite Corporation, a Tamil Nadu-based Central public sector undertaking; and another 1,980 MW plant near Allahabad in partnership with the NTPC. Both ventures are expected to be commissioned by the end of the 12th Plan period in March 2017.
However, power generation is only a part of the problem. âEven if you accept the UPPCLâs claim that 21,765 MW will be available in 2016, 24-hour power supply across the state will still be impossible to achieve as the basic infrastructure of power transmission â the power grid â can handle a flow of only 6,000 MW and this deficiency is compensated through power rostering,â says an official of the UP Power Transmission Corporation.
Admitting the deficiency of the power grid, UPPCL Managing Director AP Mishra says, âThe real cause of the power deficit is the low capacity of the power transmission network in the state, and so it canât be addressed merely by increasing power generation. However, both the UPPCL and the Power Grid Corporation of India are working on enhancing the gridâs capacity by developing new power transmission lines.â
So why is Mulayam making promises that he knows cannot be kept? It seems the Samajwadi Party chief was only shooting from the hip in a war of words with Modi, who had taken on Mulayamâs constant refrain that he wonât allow the BJP to turn Uttar Pradesh into âanother Gujaratâ by saying, âFor turning UP into Gujarat, a vibrant state, one needs a 56-inch chest and not politicians who have dug their heels in vote-bank politics.â In spelling out what the âGujarat development modelâ implies, Modi also referred to 24×7 power supply. That is the reason why Mulayam made the same promise at a rally in Gonda on 3 February, while accusing the BJP of doing little on the electricity front during its two stints in power in the state: from June 1991 to December 1992, and from September 1997 to February 2002.
With a question mark hanging over its preferred self-positioning as the âsecular poleâ in Uttar Pradesh politics following Akhileshâs inept handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots, the Samajwadi Party seems to be making a desperate attempt to tomtom its âdevelopment credentialsâ. But the tactic is bound to fail by bringing into sharper focus the lack of development in the state.