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DPL power unit lights up

Durgapur, Jan. 6: The state-owned Durgapur Projects Limited (DPL) today lighted one of its units lying idle for the past two months because of cost-overrun related problems and hoped electricity generation would resume by tonight, the hurried move coming a day before the power minister’s visit to the ailing plant.

Trade unions Citu and Intuc alleged that the decision by the DPL was an attempt to “please” minister Manish Gupta as unit III, which was lighted today, generates electricity at a rate higher than the selling price. They also alleged that the company had not bothered to light up its defunct units for the past two months even though thousands of people in and around Durgapur suffered.

The plant, which has witnessed zero power generation in the past six days, has incurred a loss of about Rs 68 crore in the last fiscal. Unit III produces electricity at Rs 5.50 a unit while the utility sells power at Rs 4.19 a unit. The repeated losses have also prompted the company to explore options in the real estate sector.

A senior DPL official said it would be “embarrassing” for the company if they showed production freeze for nearly a week to the minister.

Dibyendu Banerjee, the general secretary of the Intuc-backed unit at DPL, said: “The production cost will be higher than the selling price if electricity is generated through unit III. The move to light up the unit is only to please the minister. The authorities can’t do that when the plant has recorded zero generation in the past six days. Its two modern units have been defunct thrice in two months. We will try to meet the minister tomorrow and apprise him of the situation.”

Citu general secretary Naren Sikdar echoed Banerjee.

Minister Gupta will meet DPL officials tomorrow to review the progress of an upcoming 250MW unit VIII, expected to start generation later this year. He is also supposed to discuss the plant’s decision to invest in real estate on its unused land.

The “sick” utility now has five units, all of which went into freeze on Tuesday. While two modern units — VI and VII — developed snag for the third time in two months, units III, IV and V had been lying idle for the past two months as generation through them escalates production costs.

DPL had for the past few months been generating electricity through its units VI and VII. When one of the units developed a snag in November, unit III was lighted. But the company could not bear the cost and it had to be closed down two days later.

Asked today about the allegations of the unions, a senior DPL official said lighting up the unit was necessary to supply steam to the boilers of the company’s Coke Oven plant. The steam makes operational a machine that unloads crude coal tar at the plant.

“Our coke oven plant will shut down if we do not supply steam for a long time to unload crude coal tar. Units VI and VII have been supplying steam, but they also shut down on Tuesday. So we had no alternative but to light up the unit. It is also true that it would be very embarrassing if we showed zero record in production for nearly a week to the minister,” said a senior DPL executive who declined to be identified.