Sunday, October 17News That Matters

Power pangs

THE precarious power situation, triggered by the apparent shortage of coal at thermal plants across the country, has caught both the Centre and the states off guard. Even as the Union government has denied that there is any crisis pertaining to the availability of coal as well as electricity, several states are feeling the heat, including Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. A Centre-state slanging match has already started, with lack of clarity on the actual state of affairs causing confusion and panic. The Union Power Ministry has pointed a finger at some states on two counts: not supplying power to their consumers; and instead selling it in the power exchange at high prices. If that is indeed the case, strict action needs to be taken against the distribution companies that are wrongfully keeping various categories of users deprived of power.

The ministry has told the states to utilise unallocated power of the central generating stations to meet their requirements, failing which this allocation will be withdrawn and given to others that need it badly. However, in the absence of coordination between the Centre and the states, things have taken a turn for the worse. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence for most thermal plants as their coal supplies are dwindling fast. All roadblocks ought to be removed at the earliest so that the plants keep operating, even if at a diminished capacity.

The abatement of the pandemic’s second wave and the encouraging tempo of the vaccination programme have contributed to a full-throttle resumption of economic activity and consequently a sharp rise in the consumption of electricity. The onset of the festival season has also upped the power demand. While short-term arrangements are being made to ease the situation that threatens to derail the nation’s economic recovery, it is imperative to look at the larger picture. India is the world’s second-highest importer, producer and consumer of coal, with China being on top. This heavy dependence on coal, coupled with the reluctance to optimally tap sources of renewable energy, should be reduced to make the country less vulnerable on the power front.

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