The collapse of three power grids one after the other within 48 hours last week, which brought the normal life of half of the population of the country to a grinding halt, exposed the pathetic plight of the power sector on the world arena. It is even more painful to find that both the Centre and state governments started passing the buck against each other immediately after the power crisis erupted, while the reality is that both are responsible for this poor scenario. The Ministry of Power is not directly accountable for the production and distribution of electricity, but it has been entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring proper functioning and management of the power sector which is vital from developmental point of view. The failure of three grids in a row has endorsed that the ministry could not evolve a mechanism which would have prevented power crisis second time and India could not have faced embarrassment.

The whole structure of electricity generation and distribution in the country has become almost defunct for the last one decade. Due to absence of a right policy, there is neither any progress in power generation nor any improvement in its distribution and transmission. The pathetic situation in this field could be understood from the fact that in some of the states the power wastage has reached up to 40 percent. The problem is that the state governments are neither being able in improving the condition of the public sector companies engaged in power generation and distribution nor are they taking proper help from private sector companies. The prime reason of this slackness is corruption and vote bank politics promising either cheap or free use of electricity to the people. This has culminated into failure of the power sector companies in getting even return of their input. It is no secret that in purchase of all equipments of electricity, heavy commission is received by the officials who prefer to compromise the quality of service. This compromise causes huge loss in the distribution of electricity. As per international standard, the rate of loss in transmission of electricity should not exceed 6-7 percent, but in India, it stands around 20 percent. In the bigger states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the loss in transmission of electricity is above 30 percent. That means, 1/3rd part of the power generated goes wasted. Looking at it in economic terms, the price of one third of the power generated goes in vain.  If we could prevent this loss or could confine the losses within international standard, we will largely be able to solve the crisis of the electricity in the country. Our policy makers are not unmindful of this fact, but the kind of steps which are required to mend the system are not being taken only because of corruption and red tapism in the system.

The apparent slackness in the functioning of the government and lack of a leadership are having direct impact on the power sector. In the beginning of the second innings of the UPA government, both the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had talked about not to be complacent. But the government failed to protect itself from this complacency which is costing dearly to the nation. The fighting among the Union Cabinet Ministers for supremacy in the government and a lack of coordination among them has badly hit the performance of the UPA dispensation at the Centre. Rest of the woes of the government has been caused by the pressure tactics of the constituents of the UPA.  The alliance partners usually accuse the Congress of taking unilateral decisions. It seems that the problem for the Congress has grown up after the Pranab Mukherjee’s exit from the government. Owing to his long political experience, Mukherjee had got an image of a trouble shooter of the government. May be he was not so successful as a Finance Minister, but his acumen in working in a well coordinated manner with the alliance partners is widely acclaimed. After Mukherjee becomes the President, P Chidambaram has once again been given the charge of finance ministry which was highly predicted. But the most surprising development is the elevation of Sushil Shinde as the Union Home Minister on the same day when grids collapsed. It is hard to figure out why Shinde whose performance as Power Minister was so dismal was elevated to the post of Union Home Minister. By assigning Shinde the additional charge of the leader of Lok Sabha, the Congress leadership has virtually made it clear that it had nothing to do with his performance as Power Minister.

Now it has become obvious that all is not well in the UPA government. Facing many charges of corruption and giving poor performance on many fronts, the UPA government has come to such a sorry pass that it has become a herculean task to change its image in the rest of the tenure. Not a single sector where the government has delivered any satisfactory result. Enormous mess is apparent in vital areas like power, agriculture, education and health care field. There have been several discussions over the problems for the past two years, but no step has been taken to kick-start reforms. Surprisingly, on the one hand there is no improvement at domestic level to better the situation, on the other the government is looking for foreign investment for the development of the country.
Some economists too have assumed that the FDI in retail and other sectors being only way to solve the problems confronted by the country; while the reality is that the government can save fund on large scale by slashing the subsidies being given on petroleum products, electricity and fertilizers, but the government is avoiding taking such step owing to vote bank politics. The political parties which consider the poor as their vote bank are overlooking the reality that the people from middle class have got fed up with wrong economic policies of the government. If the constituents of the UPA believe that their populist agenda will help them to get power for the third consecutive time, they are in illusion. In the present political scenario, only positive thing is the return of Chidambaram to Union Ministry of Finance. Fortunately, he is not burdened with the responsibilities of many committees like his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee. He is a politician of strong will power, but it is pertinent to see if he succeeds in incorporating the changes required to rejuvenate the economy especially in the core sector like power.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on August 5, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)