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‘Uninterrupted power supply will make people pay happily’

Piyush Goyal, the new power, coal and renewable energy minister, spoke to HT on his plans to keep up with his party’s promise to provide basic services of electricity and water to India’s billion-plus population who voted Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2014 12:38 IST

Within 10 days of swearing in, he got stuck resolving a major power crisis that hit the capital and North India. Piyush Goyal, the new power, coal and renewable energy minister, spoke to HT on his plans to keep up with his party’s promise to provide basic services of electricity and water to India’s billion-plus population who voted Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. Excerpts

You have the charge of three important yet controversial ministries. What’s your assessment of India’s power and coal sector and what do you intend to do to set things right?

I have been in my job for exactly 28 days now and I appreciate the challenges before me and the difficulties faced by the sector. There is poor quality of planning and extremely unbalanced growth where power generation capacity has been created without ensuring adequate fuel supply. Transmission and distribution network has completely failed to keep pace with demand and we have a situation where we have regions with surplus power but cannot evacuate power to where it is required. Lot of projects are facing huge stress, assets are unutilised and producers are not being able to easily service the debt — all these challenges are there but they don’t intimidate me. I believe that within challenges lie opportunities and as Narendra Modi says, you can look at it as a glass half full or a glass half empty.

Adequate power supply is a must to ensure growth... How do you plan to ensure stable power supplies across India?

People of this country and companies across industries are almost desperate for power. One set of political thinking is that they are not willing to pay, but I personally believe that if we give quality, uninterrupted and adequate power supply, people will happily pay for it. What is to be ensured is that basic service (power) comes without the baggage of corruption, with fair and ethical practices, is sustainable over longer periods of time with a guarantee that consumers will get for what they pay.

Can private sector involvement solve the distribution woes that states face today?

Why privatisation is seen as the only answer to these problems? It could also be a mix... I don’t see that the public sector is necessarily failing. If Gujarat, without privatising, could bring its power utilities out from a loss of `2,500 crore to a profit of `500 crore, why can’t this be done elsewhere? It’s all about leadership, empowerment, getting people to start working better and political will and determination.

How do you address lenders’ concerns as fuel and regulatory concerns have made them wary of financing power projects?

Banks are not so much wary of lending to the power sector as they are wary of the government’s non-performance as an enabler or facilitator of this sector. Lenders are wary of corruption happening in different aspects of this sector whether it was coal block allocation or other allegations. They are concernedabout lethargy and inaction on part of the government, whether it is regulatory, approval or facilitation process. Also, lenders feel that the government is not allowing adequate and fair competition in this sector. What we need to do as the government is demonstrate our sincerity. Its time our steps should facilitate both public and private sector equally, help increase production and give them adequate fuel.

Despite India having the world’s fourth-largest coal reserve, we continue to import huge amounts of coal. With delayed approvals and regulatory hurdles, most coal mines allotted are stuck. How would you address these issues?

There is no single solution that will sort this out. As the coal allocation process is in courts, we have to wait to see what the court decides and then start working around it to decide how to go forward. I am also working on a rationalisation plan to see how we can keep the coal closest to its source. For instance, imported coal comes into Gujarat and goes to an NTPC plant in Korba (Chhattisgarh) and a Gujarat power producer gets coal from Korba to take it to its project in Gujarat. I asked for swapping supplies as this decision would not only unclog the rail network and the whole transportation but result in huge savings. KPMG has done a study as per which thousands of crores can be passed on distribution companies and hopefully further to the consumers just by rationalising this.

Any plans of privatising Coal India? Do you plan to restructure the company before privatising?

No decision has been made on privatisation as yet. It’s more a mindset... I am not concerned about the form of restructuring but in the substance. Gujarat converted its loss-making power sector from a `2,500-crore loss to a profit of `500 cr without any privatisation... its about leadership, its honesty and sincerity of purpose. Its not only about the private sector. Are there any less scams in the private sector? so privatisation is not the only solution. I have to be honest then the whole system can be honest... if I start at the top doling out coal mines and special privelages then the whole sector, from top to bottom is going to get spoiled.