THE worsening power supply situation in many parts of Uttar Pradesh could be one of the major factors that will determine the fate of the ruling Samajwadi Party (S.P.) in the Assembly elections, especially since Mulayam Singh Yadav failed to keep the promise he made in 2003 to improve the power situation.
The transformer in Rasna, one of the bigger villages near Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh, broke down on February 27, four days before the festival of Holi, cutting off power supply to the village. The residents filed a complaint with the State Electricity Board office seeking immediate restoration of power supply. No action was taken to repair the transformer and the village celebrated Holi in darkness. Three weeks later, on March 18, when this correspondent visited Rasna, power supply was yet to be restored. According to a number of residents, they had even "propitiated" the electricity officials with "monetary and other inducements", but nothing happened.
Erratic power supply is not Rasna's problem alone. This correspondent found that in most villages and towns in the western Uttar Pradesh districts of Meerut, Ghaziabad and Baghpat, the power supply situation was equally bad. Power was available for about 10 hours a day.
Scores of villagers told Frontline that the power situation was no better before Mulayam Singh came to power in 2003. But soon after he took office, power supply improved by leaps and bounds. Most parts of Uttar Pradesh received 16 to 18 hours of power supply. "There was a general belief then," said Bhim Singh, a resident of Meerut, "that the S.P. government would make a fundamental difference to the power situation in the State." But this phase lasted only for a few months and in course of time things deteriorated.
The plans formulated by the S.P. government in 2003-04 visualised improvement in access, availability and quality of power. The government set a generation target of 22,676 megawatt by 2012, which would ensure a round-the-clock full domestic connection power load of 1,000 units per capita.
In this context, the State Electricity Board put down on paper an estimate to generate 21,065 MW cumulatively in the private, State and Central sectors. It was also projected that Uttar Pradesh would get half of this, that is 11,739 MW, as its share. Clearly, the plan was to project improvement in power situation as a major achievement of the government and make it an important campaign plank for the next Assembly polls.
As is evident, all these plans have gone awry. A variety of factors seem to have contributed to this; one of these is the near-total collapse of the government's efforts to involve the private sector in a major way in power generation. Of the 21,065 MW it had estimated to produce, 12,585 MW was to be generated in the private sector with the Reliance projects in Dadri, Ghaziabad, alone estimated to generate 7,480 mw. The Dadri project got enmeshed in controversy right from its start, leading to a split in the Reliance group of industries.
After the company split, the project was advanced by the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Enterprise (ADAE), but no real progress was made. The acquisition of land for the project and the subsidies given to the Reliance group were contested by former Prime Minister V.P. Singh and other Jan Morcha leaders. Subsequently, problems arose in the supply of gas to run the power station as Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited and the Ministry of Petroleum could not agree with the ADAE on the modalities of supply. The net result was that the project got virtually bogged down. And with this ended the S.P.'s big dream to provide uninterrupted power.
By all indications, with the collapse of the new power generation plans, the government lost even the will to carry out the normal drill in power management. Electricity officials admit that transmission loss and power theft are the major problems affecting normal power supply in the State.
Yet no measures have been taken to counter this. In Rasna, one can see the clips and wires reaching out from various buildings to the main power supply line, making no secret of the power theft. These clips can be found even on the transmission lines along the main road.
Opposition parties are bound to make the power situation an aggressive electoral issue, even if their own past record may not accord sufficient moral authority to do so. The S.P. leadership, on its part, will try to propagate how its great vision to turn around the power situation of the State was "sabotaged" by vested political and commercial interests.Venkitesh Ramakrishnan