At a time when the meteorological department has predicted a weak monsoon, precious water meant for irrigation has been released from the Ranjit Sagar Dam (RSD) ahead of schedule and has wastefully flowed into Rajasthan and even Pakistan during May. The water could have irrigated thousands of acres as sowing of paddy is to begin soon in Punjab. The reason for this wastage: Coal shortage at Punjab’s thermal power generation units. Here’s how.
With half of the state’s thermal units shut due to coal shortage, the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) has shifted focus to hydel power generation. This means that May 15 onwards, the PSPCL has got discharged 60% more water than planned from the dam reservoir on the river Ravi to run the hydel units. As paddy sowing is to start only on June 15, the excess water becomes a liability after generation of power. The irrigation department, then, has no other option but to release the extra water to the neighbours.
On the power front, generation from RSD water from May 15 to 31 this year has indeed risen compared to last year. Around 697 lakh units were generated using 1.1 lakh cusecs from May 15-31 last year; the water release was a little higher than the planned 99,800 cusec. This year, in the same period, 1,106 lakh units were generated. But the water use at 1.64 lakh cusecs was much higher than the planned 1 lakh cusecs.
DECREASING POWER GENERATION
As for the ther mal plants, while 14,183 LUs were generated in May last year, the figure came down to 9,220 LUs this May. So, the extra power 400-odd LUs generated at hydel stations could still hardly make up for the shortage from thermal plants. The PSPCL has been relying on power cuts and expensive shortterm purchases of electricity.
In an objection letter to the PSPCL, the irrigation department has expressed strong dissent over the release of excess water on Punjab’s request. In theory, it is the irrigation department that holds the first right over the water, as both Bhakra and Ranjit Sagar Dam are built for irrigation, and electricity generation is the secondary use. Sources said that out of the water released every day, the majority part was released to Rajasthan; only some sent into Punjab’s canals as paddy season had not yet begun; while more than 10,000 cusecs in all went to Pakistan in the past 15 days.
The situation has reached this stage as Panem Coal Mines, which supplies fuel to Punjab’s thermal plants, first stopped supplies on April 10 over a price hike demand, and is now supplying only two rakes against the required six. The price hike demand is shuttling between state government offices. As a result, the performance of PSPCL’s three thermal plants reduced by almost half in April-May.
In the objection letter, a copy of which is with HT, the irrigation department has categorically stated that “wrong use has forced the water to be released to Pakistan”. “I can’t confirm the quantum, but certainly water has flown to Pakistan as the PSPCL is running its hydel power units on more water than planned,” said AS Dullat, engineer-in-chief of the irrigation department, acknowledging that he has taken up the matter with the PSPCL.
Padamjit Singh, president, All India Power Engineers Association, termed the excess release a “criminal act”: “Precious water was misused for electricity generation, whereas the first use of this water is for irrigation. Also, the monsoon is predicted to be below average this year. Basically, the PSPCL is finding it hard to solve the coal crisis, and taking this route to hide its failure.”
Despite several attempts, PSPCL chair man-cum-managing director KD Chaudhri did not respond to phone calls. Engineers, requesting anonymity, told HT that excess water had been discharged and used for power generation “as per directions of the head office in Patiala”.