The festive season has just concluded and like the preceding years, this year also, the people of Barak Valley have enjoyed a relatively more stable power supply during the season. However, with the festivities coming to an end, ‘normalcy’ will soon be restored and hours of load shedding and erratic, low voltage power supply will become the daily norm.
|Students in Barak Valley have to rely on traditional candles and lamps for their studies. Photo Courtesy: www.topnews.in|
The power situation in the three south Assam districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi has been pathetic to say the least for more than the last two decades. However, the government has abjectly failed to initiate any step towards solving the menace.
The primary reason for the pathetic state of affairs in the power sector is the absence of a power generating source in the valley. The proposed 1500 MW Tipaimukh Hydro Power project on the confluence of River Barak and River Tuivai has not seen much progress in the last few years due to terrorism and opposition from many environment groups in Manipur and Bangladesh.
Recently, the project has been handed over to the hydro power major NHPC Limited, who will be having a joint venture with the Shimla based Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL) and the Manipur government. Earlier the mega project was supposed to be constructed by the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO). Despite these developments, the future of this dam looks extremely bleak and uncertain with all the controversy going on surrounding the viability of mega power projects on the rivers of the north eastern region.
A couple of years ago, public sector majors Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (BHEL), Power Finance Corporation (PFC) and the Assam government had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for setting up a 250 MW thermal power plant at Digarkhal in Cachar. After the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the proposed Rs. 1,000 crore project has now been dumped in the cold storage with no certainty of it ever getting implemented.
Two micro power projects were also started in Banskandi (Cachar) and Adamtila (Karimganj) by private sector firm DLF with a capacity of 15 MW and 9 MW respectively with the help of gas supplied by ONGC. But after a few years, the Adamtila plant was closed due to the shortage of gas supply. At Banskandi also the electricity production is erratic.
On the other hand, the demand for power in the region, especially the three urban centres of Silchar, Karimganj and Hailakandi is increasing continuously. In 2008, the power demand in the valley was approximately 85 MW. With rapid urbanisation and implementation of many government schemes such as the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Programme, the demand has shot up to about 93 MW. Yet the power supplied to Barak Valley from the Assam Power Distribution Company’s load dispatch facility in Khanapara, Guwahati continues to hover around the 45-50 MW mark leading to rampant load shedding and low voltage power supply.
Due to the poor power situation, the people of the region face many other related problems such as irregular water supply and absence of functional street lights on the roads. The region has not seen any industrial development at all because of the absence of quality power. The tea gardens are also finding it difficult to compete with the gardens of the Brahmaputra valley and other parts of the country because the absence of power often force them to use generators for the processing of the leaves leading to an increase in the production costs.
Tea Association Of India (TAI) President DP Maheshwari recently said at a function in Kolkata that, frequent interruptions in power supply across Assam, besides long periods of load-shedding and supply of low voltage power, was preventing the tea planters to use grid power for manufacture of tea. Consequently, he added that, dependence on self-generation of power by using generators was on the rise resulting in huge consumption of diesel, which in turn was increasing the cost of production.
Dejected by the state government’s callousness, the few industries that have set shop in the region are exploring their own avenues to generate power. For example, the Barak Valley Cements Limited has set up a 6 MW biomass based multi fuel thermal power project at Devendranagar in Badarpurghat to cater to their production requirements.
Availability of insufficient power is not the only problem plaguing Barak Valley. Extremely poor and archaic power distribution infrastructure in the region ensures that a major portion of the power transmitted is lost in transit. This apart, power thefts and payment defaults are also common. In order to address these problems, the power sector was corporatized by the state government in December 2004. The Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB) was divided into five separate companies – one for generation, one for transmission and three for distribution.
The distribution of power in Barak Valley is looked after by the Central Assam Electricity Distribution Company Limited (CAEDCL), which has its headquarters in Silchar. A few years ago, Assam’s Power Minister Pradyut Bordoloi had gone on record to say that the local delivery mechanism in Barak Valley, along with Upper Assam was inadequate. Unfortunately, the so called power reforms initiated by the minister have not yielded any results at all.
Despite the poor power situation in the entire state, the Tarun Gogoi government looks confused and has no vision at all to find a stable solution. After getting embroiled in a lot of controversy for backing the Lower Subansiri Mega Hydro Power project, Gogoi is now supporting smaller hydro projects. The Chief Minister recently said that the state government has decided to opt for smaller hydropower projects in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode to generate over 250 MW of power.
In a nutshell, there is no immediate solution in sight to solve the power woes of the region. In a couple of years, the demand for power in Barak Valley will cross the 100 MW mark. If the power made available to Barak Valley continues to be around the 45-50 MW figure, the power situation will only worsen further. The signs are already imminent. This year, the CAEDCL struggled to provide adequate power to the region during the Durga Puja festival. In the future years, we may well have to contend with power less festivities.
In this sector also, there is urgent need to explore the possibility of private entrepreneurship. Rather than waiting for the government to act, young entrepreneurs must come forward to generate power by eco friendly and innovative technologies. Many such interesting endeavours have been taken up in Bihar and other power deficient states leading to tremendous results. In the absence of any assistance from the government, it is time for the people of Barak Valley to look for their own solutions not only in the power sector but in the other spheres too.