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Anger over power cuts boils over

- Assam CM convenes meeting as protesters hit streets in Dhubri, Golgahat and Silchar

Dhubri/Golaghat, April 21: Protests over severe power cuts spilled onto the streets of Dhubri and Golgahat districts and Silchar today, compelling Dispur to go into damage control mode with chief minister Tarun Gogoi convening an emergent review of the power scenario.

Over the last few days, places in Golgahat have been experiencing intermittent power cuts of eight to 10 hours every day. In Dhubri, the situation is worse. “No power for 12 hours and when it comes, it stays for half-an-hour to an hour. How can we survive? We have lost business and peace of mind,” said a resident of Dhubri town.

Traders observed a two-hour shutdown in Golaghat but in Dhubri town and Bilasipara, a virtual strike was observed. In Silchar, which has seen eight-hour power cuts over the last four days, people held banners that read: “No Power, No Bill.”

So agitated were the protesters in Dhubri and Bilasipara that police had to resort to a lathicharge in which 35 people were injured. All commercial establishments, school, banks and some government offices remained closed and the roads were deserted.

Fearing that the protests could spread to other areas ahead of the third and final phase of polls on April 24, the chief minister asked the chairman of the Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL), Rajiv Yadav, to take immediate steps to meet the electricity shortfall.

In Dhubri, which goes to the polls on Thursday, some protesters chanted “No power, no vote”.

Around the year, Assam requires about 1200MW of electricity during peak hours and on an average there is a shortfall of 250MW. But Yadav told the chief minister that the state is facing a daily shortage of about 525MW, as the drought-like situation in the Northeast had reduced the power generation capacity of hydel projects and shortage of gas supplies is hampering thermal power stations.

“Less rainfall has resulted in a shortfall of 275MW of power from Ranganadi, Kopili, Khandong, Doyang and Loktak while there is another shortfall of 250MW from the thermal stations in Palatana, Ramachandranagar, Kathalguri, Namrup and Kakwa,” an official statement said.

Yadav said APDCL is trying to meet demand by procuring 300MW of power from the eastern region grid but the situation is unlikely to improve unless there is some rain relief and improvement in gas supply.

The shortage of electricity has not just angered the common people but many firms have become reluctant to expand their business.

The United Chamber of Commerce — the leading traders’ association in Golaghat — today threatened to start an indefinite shutdown of business establishments from April 23 if immediate steps were not taken to improve the prevailing power scenario. The traders’ body, which has a membership of more than 300, today observed a two-hour strike and submitted memorandums to deputy commissioner Julie Sonowal and the deputy general manger of APDCL’s Golaghat electric division.

Dwipen Dutta, president of UCC, said the district needs 42MW of power daily whereas it is getting only 7 to 8MW.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi said even Gujarat experiences five hours of load-shedding.