Elaborating on the achievements of the Narendra Modi government on its fourth anniversary, Union Power Minister R.K. Singh espoused hope on two fronts.
One, that power will soon reach every household, and second, that load-shedding would become history by March 2019.
“We are formulating the Draft Tariff Policy, under which load-shedding after March 2019 would invite penalties for power distributors,” said Singh, who was speaking at a press conference on the power ministry’s achievements on Tuesday.
The policy is under review by the power ministry’s own review committee, after states had pointed out difficulties with the Centre’s new tariff policy.
“All discussions will be done with states and, in fact, discussions are still going on with certain states on the new policy,” Singh, a first-time minister and former bureaucrat in the home and defence ministries, said.
Distribution companies, many of whom are privately owned, have reacted differently to the new draft policy. “We have sent in our views on the new policy; now, it is for the government to see what are its priorities,” said Sanjay Kumar Banga, CEO, Tata Power-Delhi Distribution Pvt Ltd, one of the two private power distributors that provide power to households in the capital.
On the issue of taking power to households in villages and cities, Singh said that the government aims to power up homes with the Saubhagya scheme.
Under the scheme, the Union government and state governments make it free for the applicant to seek power at homes, in comparison with the earlier system of paying for the infrastructure first to get the connection.
“Under the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana, we brought power to 68 lakh villages, and now with Saubhagya scheme, we will power all census households in these villages,” the Union power minister said.
However, Singh’s claims of having brought power to every village in four years of the Modi government drew criticism from across the country.
‘Unpowered’ villages have been reported from Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh and some other states, said journalists from these states, joining in via teleconference at the minister’s press conference.
Power is central to the government’s many development plans as it battles to take a stand against pollution.
The power minister said that renewable energy capacities have been doubled in the last four years. “We have doubled renewable capacity to 34GW in four years. Things have never happened so fast at this blazing speed under any government,” claimed Singh.
He said that India is well on track to achieve its renewable energy target of 175GW, “well before our target of 2022.”
Singh said that solar capacity has doubled in the last four years and wind and hydroelectric generation has also grown three to four times.
Referring to advances made by India on achieving the renewable energy target, Singh had included renewable projects under completion (12,500MW), projects bid out (25,000MW) and projects with about 40,000MW capacity whose bidding would be held by the government in the coming two years.
“These take us to 108GW of renewable capacity already,” Singh said. In fact, enthused by the prospects, the government has set itself an unofficial target of 225GW instead.
The power ministry’s targets apart, all eyes will now be on whether the Central government will light up still dark homes in the country and fuel the economy’s growth, before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls are held.
UDAY scheme takes a back seat
Even as R.K. Singh highlighted the achievements of the power ministry, one scheme, which was in the limelight till last year, figured rather inconspicuously in the power ministry’s list of achievements.
“Under UDAY, tremendous efficiency improvement has been done and we have saved more than Rs 20,000 crore in interest cost alone (for discoms),” said Singh, apparently trying to avoid talking much about the scheme introduced by his predecessor and current Coal and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal.
The Centre’s UDAY scheme prescriptions for troubled state-run discoms, to help them come out of indebtedness, had resulted in discoms making huge dent in revenues of a number of states.
In a colourful brochure this year, the government claimed that adoption of the UDAY scheme had improved India’s ranking on the World Bank’s ease of getting electricity index to 29 in 2018 from 114 in 2014.
The power minister said that the government is now exploring new ways of helping troubled power distributors.
Among the methods it is exploring are bringing 11 troubled power plants under the Samadhan scheme of SBI, seven power plants under the Shakti scheme of power ministry arm Rural Electricity Corporation and another nine power units undergoing resolution at the NCLT for change of ownership, said the minister.
The RBI had already given its go-ahead for debt resolution of the 11 power plants identified under SBI’s Samadhan scheme, a notification from the Central Bank on June 3 stated.