Delhi’s power crisis

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Previous regimes had ignored the danger signs

In the spate of charges and counter-charges which the BJP and its rivals have been trading over the Delhi power crisis, two facts should not be missed. First, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, who have been the most strident in their criticism, are primarily responsible for the mess that the BJP-led NDA regime has inherited; and second, the new Government has to find an immediate and a long-term solution, failing which it will be held accountable. In the first case, the Congress Government, which was at the helm in Delhi for 15 years, did not do enough to upgrade the power infrastructure, particularly transmission and distribution abilities. It seemed happy enough that the city faced no immediate power cut and remained oblivious or uncaring about the crisis slowly building up. The Aam Aadmi Party that came to power afterwards only sought to reward those who had previously refused to pay their electricity bills at the party’s call. The cry for reform was again ignored. Hence, despite a surplus power generation, Delhi has been of late routinely subjected to power cuts for several hours. The situation has worsened with every passing summer. As the mercury rises to punishing heights, and the demand for power increases, the power distribution system — its rickety framework already creaking and leaking — effectively collapses. This year, the situation was made worse by the May 30 storm which damaged key transmission lines. Three main 220-KV lines, operated by the state-owned Delhi Transco Ltd, broke down. They are still being repaired, even as rotational load-shedding continues. On June 7, the 220-KV Badarpur-Noida-Ghazipur line of UP Transmission Company also collapsed. The simultaneous record-breaking rise in temperature has been the proverbial last straw. With demand during peak hours rising up to 5,600 MW over the weekends, distribution companies have been able to supply only 5,150 MW of power. This has now compelled the Delhi Government to implement austerity measures such as cutting off electricity to shopping malls after 10pm, ordering Government offices to switch off air-conditioners in the afternoon, and turning off street lights. Yet, the situation needn’t have come to such a sorry pass. For instance, if only the Government had commissioned the 220-KV Wazirpur grid, with incoming power from the 400-KV Mundka sub-station, on time, the post-May 30 damage could have been controlled. In fact, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd, which supplies electricity to north Delhi, had repeatedly cautioned Delhi Transco Ltd and the Delhi Government in the course of the last several months against the impending crisis and urged the authorities to upgrade critical infrastructure. Unfortunately, its warnings fell on deaf ears, largely because nobody took those warnings seriously.

For the BJP, which has been in power for barely two weeks, this crisis is one of its first pressure tests. Yes, it means that the new regime will have to clean up someone else's mess, but that is part of the job. Union Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy Piyush Goyal is leading from the front and has promised relief soon. But beyond the immediate crisis, the Modi Government needs to overhaul the power sector.

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