Power politics rules Punjab

Major power crisis big challenge for Capt Amarinder Singh-led state government, reports RAJENDRA KHATRY

The acute power crisis in Punjab is making life difficult for the Capt Amarinder Singh led Congress government in the state. For the Akalis and the AAP, the main opposition parties in the state, this is a godsend opportunity to hit out at the government with state elections round the corner. The power surplus state has suddenly become power deficit and is finding it difficult to deal with the situation.

The present power crisis could not have come at a worse time for Punjab. With just over seven months left for the state assembly elections, the Congress government is finding it tough to deal with the new threats and challenges posed everyday arising out of the people’s ire and protests by the political parties. Facing criticism from within his party as well as the Opposition, Punjab CM Capt Amarinder blamed the power agreements signed by the previous SAD-BJP government for the present acute power crisis which to a large extent is true.

Punjab’s power crisis suffered further setback recently as the second unit of Talwandi Sabo power plant developed a snag, causing a shortage of 660 MW. Already, one unit of the plant (660 MW) was shut for some time due to a technical glitch.

Punjab pays a huge power subsidy every year. The government still owes around 71,000 crore to the PSPCL as power subsidy. Due to lack of finances, the government has not been able to develop the power infrastructure leading to the present crisis.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has staged protests all over the state forcing the government on the backfoot. People in many parts of the state have faced 14- hour long power cuts, making life very difficult under the blistering heat. People all over the state are coming out on the streets to protest the scheduled and unscheduled power cuts

Temperatures have been soaring in the absence of rains. Monsoon came early this year, but after the initial rainfall the rain clouds disappeared. Now it is also the peak season for paddy transplantation and as result, the demand for power in Punjab has touched 14,225 MW. But the power utility has only been able to supply just 12,800 MW to the people leaving a big gap between demand and supply.

Punjab has been paying a whopping 6000 crore as fixed charges to the private power producers even without using their power. Now despite paying through its nose this grave power crisis is staring at Punjab.  Power rates in Punjab are one of the highest in the country and the domestic rate is around 10 per unit. People naturally expect uninterrupted power supply. It is another matter that power and water is free to the farmers which cost a great deal to the state in the form of subsidies to this sector.

It is unfortunate that the PSPCL failed to anticipate this year’s demand for power which has now crossed 14,500 MW. Interestingly In the year 2019, the maximum demand during peak season was 13,633 MW. Now every year on an average Punjab records an increase in demand by about 500 MW. Last year during the Covid lockdown it was 13,150 MW. But the PSPCL failed to anticipate that this year the demand would jump to 14,500 MW. Therefore it made arrangements for only 13,000 MW of supply. The gap is now too huge. As more and more consumers feel harassed, the Punjab is government is embarrassed

While the agriculture sector is not getting adequate power supply, the domestic consumers have been facing long hours of power cuts. The high consumption industrial sector has been asked to shut down for two days in a week to divert power to agriculture and the domestic sector. The state government offices have also been asked to reduce duty hours every day.

The Punjab government also imposed a ban on running of air conditioners in government offices. The office timings were also curtailed to 8 am to 2 pm because of the power shortage.

Capt Amarinder Singh’s vocal critic and former local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu was quick to attack the chief minister for the poor handling of the power situation in the state. In a series of tweets Sidhu charged that if the CM had followed the right path then the state would not have faced this power crisis now.

The Powercom was quick to point out that Sidhu had himself not paid power bills of 8, 68,500. The bills should have been paid till July 2 but were not. Later to avoid any further criticism Sidhu paid the entire bill along with the fine. Now like Arvind Kejriwal, Sidhu has been saying with proper management it is possible to give 300 units free power to the people. He also advocated round the clock power in the state.

Like many others Sidhu blamed the present power crisis on the power purchase agreements signed with private players by the previous SAD-BJP government. He asked the Amarinder government to scrap the power purchase agreements (PPAs) done with the private thermal plants in the state. The Agreements have put a very heavy financial burden on the state. But that is easier said than done. Neither party can wriggle out of the agreements easily. There are too many legal hassles involved.

The government of India has too in the past warned ther state governments including Punjab that scrapping of legally binding long term agreements with the private sector companies for the supply of power will send wrong signals to the foreign companies which have now started to invest in India in many sectors. At the same time the Centre too is keen to market itself as an attractive investment destination. Afterall India is trying to attract foregn companies to invest in India as an alternative to China.

So in such a situation what is the way out? Capt Amarinder Singh says the “ill-conceived” power purchase agreements (PPAs) with private thermal plants signed by the SAD-BJP government are being reviewed and his government would soon announce a legal strategy to counter the PPAs that had burdened the state exchequer. The government is now looking at a legal strategy to counter the agreements with thermal power plants that have burdened the state exchequer and made life miserable for everyone in the state.