Power for the future

Published : Sep 26, 2003 00:00 IST

With renewed public sector investment, the trend of perennial power shortage in Rajasthan appears to have been reversed.

FOR a State that lacks the natural resources required for power generation - coalmines or abundant water - the Rajasthan government appears to be making genuine attempts to attain self-sufficiency in the power sector. With agriculture and agro-related activities being the predominant occupation in the State, the demand for power for agricultural operations can hardly be understated . However, power generation had somewhat stagnated over the past few years, with previous governments not giving much thought to the creation of infrastructure. The trend seems to have been reversed now with renewed public sector investment.

On September 4, Unit Six (195 MW) of the Kota thermal power plant was commissioned. Undoubtedly, there have been a lot of struggles by farmers on the issue of power supply, especially in the Shekhawati belt, and the relentless pressure put on the governments coupled with political will, has led to the setting up of a sustainable power infrastructure.

From a mere two or three hours of power supply in the rural areas, the government has attempted to provide eight hours of power supply. However, a lot remains to be done as several rural pockets are still devoid of electricity. According to figures provided by the government, the power availability between 1990 and 1998 increased by 50 MW a year as against an estimated annual increase in demand of between 150 MW and 200 MW. To keep up with the demand, the government has decided to hike public sector investment in the power sector. It has drawn up a blueprint for an ambitious restructuring programme to double power generation within five years. There is also an attempt to increase the total generation - with help from outside sources - by about 50 per cent.

On July 19, 2000, under an agreement arrived at with the World Bank for a loan of $180 million for the Rajasthan Power Restructuring Project, which became effective in March 2001, the Rajasthan State Electricity Board was dissolved and five new companies were set up in its place. The new companies are Rajasthan State Power Production Ltd., Rajasthan State Power Distribution Corporation Ltd., Ajmer Power Distribution Corporation Ltd., Jaipur Power Distribution Corporation Ltd. and Jodhpur Power Distribution Corporation Ltd. According to the government, these companies have ensured the electrification of 2,712 villages, the energisation of 1.89 lakh wells, the electrification of 756 Dalit settlements and the energisation of 11,883 wells belonging to Dalits. Over seven lakh domestic connections, 99,390 commercial and 1.26 lakh other connections were provided over one year.

This year, Unit 2 (250 MW) of the Suratgarh Thermal Power Station was commissioned, while work on its fifth unit is already at an advanced stage. Similarly, Unit 6 of the Kota Thermal Power Station was commissioned in September 2003. Similarly, at the power station at Ramgarh, a new 37.5 MW gas turbine and one steam turbine of the same capacity were commissioned in August 2002 and April 2003 respectively. At Giral in Barmer, a Lignite-based power plant is being set up at an estimated cost of Rs.618 crores. The State government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Neyveli Lignite Corporation in June last year for the development of a lignite-based power project in Barsingsar.

The power generation capacity, according to the government, increased by 1,191 MW between December 1998 and March 2003. By September 2003, a further 522 MW of capacity is likely to be added. The operational efficiency of the plants, the government claims, is among the best in the country. One effect of the power reforms in the State has been that the revenue deficit, which had reached a staggering 1,678 crores in March 2000 according to the government, was reduced to 1,250 crores by March 2002.

The achievements of electrification, new connections, efficiency in collection and so on, are attributable to the accelerated investment in the sector. A comparison of the decade preceding the power reforms shows that investment in the power sector in the eight years between 1990-91 and 1997-98 aggregated to Rs.5,640 crores, whereas in the five years between 1998-99 and 2002-03 , Rs.7,168 crores have been invested.

This enhancement of power supply has resulted in fewer interruptions, according to the government. In fact, it is a proud government that states that there has been virtually no power cut for industry for more than a year now and currently all municipal areas are getting uninterrupted power supply. However, rural areas do not get round-the-clock power supply; the government claims that power supply is on for 14 to 15 hours a day.

There are various constraints and there is a realistic admission of the same. The continuing level of deficit of State Electricity Boards all over the country plagues Rajasthan too, and the government would like a review of the tariff structure and rationalisation of the same. But the fact that the burden could fall on the consumers deters it from hiking the tariff. The government admits that the biggest problem is the "burgeoning revenue deficit". It is anticipated that the passage of the Electricity Bill, 2003, providing for open access and the reduction of cross subsidies in a phased manner, could improve the financial health of the sector.

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