Power, its availability and shortage, has played a major role in the politics of Maharashtra, as it has affected not only industrial growth and the generation of new jobs, but also devastated agriculture, as the pumping of water for irrigation is a major concern for farmers.
It was the late Shiv Sena chief, Balasaheb Thackeray, who had promised free power supply to these irrigation pumps, but this initiative was snatched away by the then Congress chief minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, who then went on to win the assembly elections on the basis of this promise. It is a different story that the promise could not be kept, as the state was plunged into power shortage and burdened with heavy debt, to the tune of more than Rs one lakh crore.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has come out with a new package for farmers affected badly by unseasonal rains and power shortage. Knowing that it will be a while before the demand for power can be fulfilled, he has included solar power pumps for farmers. But experts are skeptical about the success of these solar pumps, since similar projects across Asia have not yielded any positive results.
These solar pumps, unlike traditional power-driven pumps, require technical expertise and regular maintenance. Similar solar power units were provided by the social justice department to hostels housing students from weaker sections of society, but these too are lying idle for lack of training in usage and technical support.
While there is no easy solution to improve the power supply position in the state, traditional coal or water-based power production units in the state could serve the purpose if they are strengthened and the available units expanded, as well as new projects planned to meet future demand and growth.
The first mega project, launched during Sharad Pawar’s tenure as chief minister, Enron, invited lot of criticism, with the Shiv Sena-BJP opposing it and wanting to drown it in the Arabian Sea, but when they were elected to power, went on to revise the project and give it clearance. Despite all these controversies and policy changes, the project did not add much to the overall power production in the state. Rather, the state leadership ignored and failed to follow up power projects offered by national entities like the NTPC.
Power production programmes drawn up during the 15-year Congress-NCP rule added a few megawatts, but failed to make the state surplus in power, even as smaller, new states like Chhattisgarh were producing more power and selling it to neighbouring states. The then power minister, Dilip Valse Patil, had drawn up a plan for private participation in this core sector by inviting private companies and signed many MOUs with them, but much of it remained on paper.
During the last decade, power and irrigation sectors have been dragged into controversies of corruption and have been targeted by the Shiv Sena–BJP to corner the Congress-NCP leaders. Now that the BJP-Sena have formed the state government and the Congress and NCP are in opposition, the ruling front has to now seriously take a second look at the sector and take corrective measures to improve the state’s power supply situation.
Vidarbha, from where CM Fadnavis hails, is very important from the point of power production. Most of the major power units are in the region and a few more, in the public and private sectors are coming up in the region.
Fadnavis must also handle the controversial nuclear power project at Jaitapur in coastal Konkan, as the Sena has been opposing it because it would affect agriculture in the region. Not just Jaitapur, but as one takes a closer look at impending nuclear power projects, a few more are planned in Konkan as it has a longer coastline and these projects are always located close to the seashore, as they need sufficient water for cooling purposes.
Further, he will have to use his political clout to ensure that the state gets its allocation of coal on a priority basis to ensure the smooth operation of many power projects. MahaGenco has power plants worth Rs 20,000 crore in the pipeline whose fate depends on the availability of coal – there are upcoming projects at Chandrapur, Koradi, and Parali-Vaijnath. These projects will require fresh allocation of coal from new, as well as existing mines in view of the Supreme Court’s decision on controversial coal mine allocations.
BHEL comes under heavy industry, managed by the Shiv Sena minister, Anant Gite, since the company provides most of the crucial components for power sector. Many corporate players are importing machinery for power plants from China, affecting the competitiveness of BHEL, which is also suffering from bureaucratic functioning. This is actually defeating PM Narendra Modi’s idea of ‘Make in India.’ Some private sector companies, including Adani, are importing machinery for their power projects being set up in Maharashtra, ignoring the public sector BHEL.
The lack of fuel linkage and coal supply have become major issues and the state government must step in to remedy this. Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal, who also hails from Maharashtra, will have to take a sympathetic view of the state’s supply situation, which is basically power shortage. Apart from coal supply, the state must get assurance that the coal mines closer to its power plants get priority, since it is economical to have the supply source close to the power unit. Without assurance on coal, some corporate power sector companies will not go ahead with their projects in the state and this will affect future development of this sector. A joint venture of Maharashtra and Gujarat states has been set up to explore coal blocks situated in Odisha, but there has been no action on this front so far. The state should not give up its claim to these rich coal blocks.
Hopefully, the state appears to have woken up to the grim situation on the power front and is taking a few hesitant steps to ensure that even if it is not in a power surplus position, it can reduce the gap between demand and supply of power.
Prakash Bal Joshi