New Delhi, Aug. 1: M. Veerappa Moily, who took over as power minister from Sushil Kumar Shinde today, stressed he would not begin his innings by indulging in a blame game.
“I don’t want to start with a blame game. At an appropriate time we will find out short- and medium-term solutions,” Moily told reporters who badgered him with queries on which state — Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab or Rajasthan — was most culpable for the back-to-back power outages.
Sources said apart from Moily’s desire to not court controversy on the first day, other political imperatives led him to be circumspect.
“He cannot single out Uttar Pradesh because the UPA critically depends on the Samajwadi Party (that rules the state) to complete its tenure,” a source said.
“Secondly, if he names Uttar Pradesh and Punjab (that has an Akali-Dal-BJP government), he runs the risk of being charged as partisan. Because (Congress-ruled) Haryana and Rajasthan too had drawn power far in excess of their permissible limits.”
Realising the Centre’s compulsions, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav seized the opportunity to stem the campaign that his state had caused the northern grid failure by using more power than its assigned quota.
Admitting that his state suffered from an “immense” power crunch, Akhilesh blamed the previous Mayawati government.
“It failed to increase production of power even a bit in the last five years. Power distribution infrastructure, like old power lines and dysfunctional transformers, were left in tatters. We are taking emergency measures to rectify them,” he said in Lucknow.
“Actual power generation from state power plants can be increased if coal linkages are provided adequately. But I hear there is an acute coal shortage. We depend on the central coal ministry for coal. I need the Centre’s co-operation.”
During the elections, the Samajwadi had promised rural voters 18 hours of uninterrupted electricity. Mayawati had allegedly reduced the supply to barely eight hours.
“We have not fulfilled the promise,” a Samajwadi minister conceded. To placate its rural voters before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Samajwadi plans to operationalise at least two power plants — in Bundelkhand and eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Samajwadi sources said the “problem” lay not in the villages but in the “energy-guzzling” satellite settlements of Noida, Kausambi, Vaishali and Indirapuram bordering Delhi. From being swathes of wilderness a little over a decade ago, these towns have largely met Delhi residents’ housing demands with apartments of all shapes and sizes, all of which have 24-hour power back-ups to operate refrigerators and ACs.
The apartment blocks are interspersed with glitzy malls whose occupants protested an Akhilesh government directive in June to shut shop by late evening to save energy. They had their way.
As Samajwadi sources claimed the Centre would not “preach” beyond a point on energy rationalisation, a former power minister, Suresh Prabhu, recalled how he had “tamed” Uttar Pradesh during the NDA regime.
Prabhu, from the Shiv Sena, said he told Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in 2001 he would have to penalise and snap power supplied by the NTPC to Uttar Pradesh for refusing to pay dues and overdrawing.
“Imagine, Vajpayeeji was an MP from Lucknow, there was a BJP government in Uttar Pradesh and the state had given the BJP many MPs too. I told him, ‘I can’t help it because the (northern) grid will collapse.’ He said, ‘go ahead’,” said Prabhu.