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Uma: Still in the pursuit of power

Subhomoy Bhattacharjee in Bhopal | March 25, 2004 13:11 IST

At Bhopal Junction, half the lights on the main platform are compulsorily switched off every evening after a train departs, to save electricity.

So acute is the power shortage in Madhya Pradesh that the decision of the Uma Bharti government to buy power from the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station at Kota at Rs 2.90 per unit to provide electricity for even domestic use has been praised as a positive step notwithstanding a hefty Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) bill.

Among all the problems that the new Bharatiya Janata Party government has been struggling to overcome in the first 100 days in office, none is more difficult than the power situation.

Total debt of the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board stood at Rs 12,600 crore (Rs 126 billion) on December 31, 2003, which is about 85 per cent of the total revenue receipts of the state.

Uma Bharti's promise to overcome the acute power shortage depends on the commissioning of the 1,000 Mw Indira Sagar project on the river Narmada by the end of 2004.

At present, against a daily peak demand of 6,000 Mw, the MPSEB provides around 1,800 Mw. The government is also trying to resolve the legal wrangle on providing escrow cover for the two private sector hydroelectricity projects at Omkareshwar and Maheshwar.

Added to this is the messy state of the roads network in the state. As a result, despite the previous and the current governments' sops for the Indore Special Economic Zone, there are hardly any takers.

The government's attempt to attract corporate India may come in the form of a new industrial policy based on feedback of industry chambers. There is not any doubt that Bharti has to act fast.

For example, the much-hyped software and hardware park in Bhopal, the foundation stone for which was laid by Union Communications Minister Arun Shourie in January, remains just that -- a piece of barren land off the Raisen Road.

The new government is also silent on the introduction of the value-added tax. Bharti's aides say the government has instead formulated a two-pronged strategy to reduce the state's dependence on excise from liquor by starting a public awareness campaign to increase sales tax collections.

They believe that encouraging people to ask for receipts from the shopkeeper for everything they buy, will be a feasible plan to increase the percentage of revenue receipts in total receipts. The ratio has dropped from 81.94 per cent in 1993-94 to 65.67 per cent in 2003-04.

Local industrialists say the forthcoming state Budget will be critical as a demonstration of the government's ability to stay off the populist track to tackle the state's fiscal mess.

But the portents are not bright, as Bharti has decided to re-instate all casual government employees removed by her predecessor Digvijay Singh with effect from December 1988. She has also released nine instalments of dearness allowance for state employees and done away with the professional tax.

Bharti's swadeshi gameplan involves extracting every possible source of funds from the Centre, instead of depending on the multilateral agencies.

The state has asked for about Rs 10,000 crore (Rs 100 billion) additional funding from the Centre, including Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) to compensate for the loss of the Chhattisgarh power circle.

Another Rs 2,800 crore (Rs 28 billion) has been demanded as a one-time grant for upgrading the state roads. It has also asked for a modification in the Prime Minister's Grameen Sadak Yojana to ensure their coverage to district roads. The state has also pitched for additional allocation from the central cess on petrol and diesel.

The swadeshi spirit is also apparent in the effort to promote tourist destinations other than Khajuraho. The state has mooted the concept of spiritual tourism declaring three towns, including Ujjain, as holy; prohibiting sale of alcoholic drinks and non-vegetarian food.

With no new investment in the tourism sector in the past few years, the state government is planning to hand over management of some of the tourism circuits in the state to private parties.

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