| Shinde: Speed call
Calcutta/Farakka, Feb. 26: Union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde today criticised Bengal for its dismal performance in rural electrification under the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana.
'Bengal is lagging far behind other states in the rural electrification programme. Progress under the scheme, which started in April last year, has been only 20 per cent. But all households in villages have to be electrified under the scheme in four years,' said Shinde. He was laying the foundation stone of a 500-MW thermal power unit at the National Thermal Power Corporation's (NTPC) plant at Farakka in Murshidabad district, 300 km from Calcutta.
Union defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee were also present.
Shinde said because of the dismal performance, four central agencies ' NTPC, National Hydel Power Corporation, Damodar Valley Corporation and Power Grid Corporation ' had been asked to assist Bengal's state electricity board to implement the scheme.
'We have asked the four agencies to help Bengal even though in other states only one of these agencies was enough,' the Union power minister added.
Shinde said every household in the country will be electrified by 2012. 'Power connections are being given to rural households on a priority basis under the rural electrification scheme. Those below the poverty line will be given electricity connections free of cost under this scheme, but they will have to pay for the power consumed.'
Shinde, however, praised Bengal for its 'outstanding work' in tackling power theft. 'Bengal is the only state which has checked power theft efficiently. We will provide Rs 500 crore to the state for development of the power sector,' he said.
Addressing a news conference in Calcutta, Shinde said the proposed 500-MW unit at Farakka was finalised despite difficulty in coal linkage. 'The area (Farakka) falls under Pranab Mukherjee's Lok Sabha constituency. Pranabbabu is a powerful minister, so the project got through. But there won't be any shortage of coal.'
Shinde said water shortage at the Farakka plant was only temporary. 'Because of the ongoing process of filling up of a reservoir in the Tehri dam project, the flow in the Ganga has become less. But once that is over, the situation will improve.'
NTPC chairman and managing director C.P. Jain said the Farakka and Talcher units would be able to supply between 550 MW and 600 MW to the Bengal grid this summer.
Chief minister Bhattacharjee said the state government had started work on setting up a 2,000-MW power plant at Sagardighi in Murshidabad district.