Power to/for the people

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Why reform of the power sector rather blame games are needed?

SRINAGAR: Power Development Department’s Chief Engineer, Bashir Ahmad Khan, indicted people for the erratic power supply-unscheduled power cuts- in Kashmir. The Chief Engineer attributed the unscheduled power cuts to a disconnect between supply and demand in winter, high rates of default in paying for electricity and power theft. He also exonerated politicians and bureaucrats from blame.  There is a kernel of truth to what the Chief Engineer has stated-but just a kernel. Yes: there is power theft in the vale and there are some people who don’t pay bills but the question is what is the state or the department in contention-the PDD –doing?

The state, in the final analysis, is a powerful entity and when and if the state gets propelled into action, then there is very little that people can do. So why the state is quiescent when it comes to power and electricity issues in Kashmir? The answer is obvious and stares us in the face: electricity is treated as a political issue because it touches upon the lives of all people in the state. So if the state takes recourse to activism insofar as collecting bills and charges from the people is concerned, then there may me be an adverse reaction which may in turn get reflected in adverse voting behavior. There is then an element of patronage involved here. Some members of the political class then intervene and take a softer line. In essence, then the state too is implicated in the power scenario of the vale.

The statements trotted out by those in charge of electricity and power generation and distribution sound rich and injudicious especially when the onus of blame is laid squarely on people. Erratic power supply and unscheduled and long power cuts are not only a matter of inconvenience for the people; it is also a matter of our economy. Our productivity and efficiency gets badly hit and this affects our economy. Moreover, if the state is serious about attracting investment to Kashmir or even J & K, then uninterrupted electricity is the sine qua non of this.

This is, insofar, as the flawed logic trotted out by those in charge of the sector is concerned.

The question now is: can anything be done to salvage the situation and improve the power scenario in the state?

We would hazard an informed opinion and answer in the affirmative.

If power theft and willful negligence to pay the bills is as broad based as is suggested, and if the political class gets involved to the detriment of the sector and the department, then the obvious solution to thwart this problem is to privatize the sector. Or , privatize some parts of the chain. Power generation, distribution and supply is not a seamless activity. If the state cannot privatize and hold electricity sector as a ‘natural monopoly’, then it can be disaggregated and those parts sold to private players which can are, to use business jargon, non core. This may mean the distribution end of the chain or network. Once a private player is involved in this , then it has an incentive to collect the dues. The political class cannot intervene or its intervention will be minimal given that it will not have the latitude and power to intervene in an entity that is marketized and non government, so to speak.  Pure commercial logic should dictate these choices. But then this approach leaves out the vulnerable segments of our society at the mercy of the market-those that cannot pay user charges. Here the state can take recourse to segmentation and after identifying the vulnerable strata of society, intervene and subsidize electricity for these people.

Other things that can be done are better, prudent and sound management of power stations. It goes without saying that power stations, and other components of the chain  are very badly managed. Modern management techniques that also offer greater accountability and transparency can be employed to weed out inefficiencies and tighten the whole chain to squeeze efficiency and productivity gains. Last but not the least, people should be educated in terms of usage of electricity and how misdemeanors regarding this affect the whole population.

In the final analysis, it is the state that is  the major  problem but the paradox is that it is with the state that the solution lies. If the state is indeed serious about improving the power sector in the state, then the state should demonstrate its seriousness by a governance focus that redounds to the benefit of the people and then by implication, the state itself. The results will be sanguine and welfare enhancing. Blaming others is the easy bit. What is difficult is the will and resolve to do stuff that is difficult but eminently doable.

No Respite For Valley This Winter: Dy CM

With the power scenario worsening ahead of the onset winter, Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh Friday said, the scheduled power cuts will continue in the Kashmir Valley as the gap between demand and supply has increased from last couple of weeks.

Talking to KNS over phone from Jammu, Deputy Chief Minister, who is also power minister of the state said, “Compared to summers the power consumption has increased in the Valley. I had a meeting with the DCP he said that the gap between demand and supply compels PDD to go for curtailments and unscheduled cuts. I can say that during the winter the scheduled power cuts will continue,” he said.

“Many people have kept transformers in their houses which put extra load to the main transformers and due to it they get damaged. The unscheduled power cuts are because of the load shedding,” the Deputy CM maintained.

Admitting that there is enough curtailment in the non-metered areas of the valley, the Deputy CM said that there is problem with the sources supplying energy to the State due to the limited infrastructure. “The reasons which are compelling us to go for long curtailments in the non metered areas are because we could not import power as per our requirement. There is problem with the sources supplying energy to the State because of the limited infrastructure, “he said but added that government is working on it. (KNS) 

 

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