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PMO note slams power ministry

delhi Updated: Jul 10, 2009 02:29 IST
Anupama Airy
Anupama Airy
Hindustan Times
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If you have been angry over the crippling power cuts lately, so is the office of the Prime Minister, which, in a note meant for internal circulation, has called it “a symptom of the deep malaise in the (power) sector”.

“… The power sector has underperformed,” concluded the note written by a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office on June 30, at the peak of the power crisis in Delhi. The note swings between anger and despair.

“In fact,” it said, “persistent shortfalls on account of electricity generation, held back our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth.” In plain language, the official is saying power shortage is holding back economic growth in India.

Delhi faced a shortfall of 500 megawatt (one megawatt can light up 20,000 tubelights) over the last few weeks causing power cuts going up to 10 hours in certain areas — leading to power riots.

The situation was pretty much the same in other parts of the country, if not worse.

It’s time now to address the issue squarely.

“Delhi’s problems are possibly amenable to quick-fixes,” the note said, adding, “but we could use this crisis and the requirements of the CWG (Common-wealth Games) 2010, to re-start the stalled reforms process.”

That is the deep malaise in the power sector: the stalled reform process. And at the root of the problem lies the power ministry, which, the note said, dumped reforms in favour of augmenting generation capacity in the public sector.

Here too, the results were unimpressive.

“Having conspicuously failed to add even 50 per cent of the target capacity of 44,000 megawatt in the X plan,” the note said, “the leaders of the sector pitched for an absurdly high target of 78,000 MW in the 11th.”

The note, countersigned by the seniormost bureaucrat in the prime minister’s office – principal secretary T K Nair, suggests a high level meeting between the Prime Minister and the power minister “to emphasise the need for reform”.

“The minister will need to be sensitised.” And that minister is Sushilkumar Shinde, who is now into his second term. His first term coincides with the period over which the PMO note said the reform process was derailed.

It was Shinde’s ministry that note said, “…dragged its feet for two years on procedures” over rural electrification which was being driven by the Prime Minister’s Office.

As a result of this “pedantry”, Bharat Nirman targets for rural electrification couldn’t be met. But Shinde returned to the ministry for a second term. But now, it seems, he is going to have the riot act read to him.

There is a sense of urgency in the note, which said this government cannot blame a previous government for the lack of action. “Unlike the Xth plan programme, the full responsibility for the progress (or lack of it) will be on UPA government.”

The Xth plan ran from 2002 to 2007, during the earlier part of which the BJP led NDA government was in power. Failure to achieve targets could have been attributed to faulty planning by the NDA regime. No such alibi is available with the XIth plan, from 2007 to 2012, during which the UPA alone will be ruling.

Asked for comments, former power secretary Anil Razdan said: “The blame game should end and reforms should be speeded up.