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Jairam Ramesh on India's power woes

By Siddharth Zarabi in New Delhi
April 08, 2008 13:02 IST
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In a homecoming of sorts, Jairam Ramesh has taken over as the minister of state for power.

And even as he described himself as having assumed temporary charge, there was nothing tentative or temporary in his answers to a number of questions about the sector, the government's showpiece mega power projects and the dismal performance in capacity addition that Siddharth Zarabi put to him on Monday. Excerpts:

How long before we should address you as the Cabinet minister for power?

I took over today (April 7) and assumed temporary charge. It feels good to be back to the same corridors at Shram Shakti Bhawan that I stalked 25 years ago with EAS Sarma.

Both of us were the first two employees of the Advisory Board on Energy headed by KC Pant. It was the most productive period of my life. We did what was then the first energy demand forecast, a 400-page document that we published in 1985.

Despite so much that's been said, capacity addition has remained poor and India remains a country starved off power.

The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002-07) was a disaster in terms of capacity addition and so was the Ninth Plan. Of the target of around 41,000 Mw, only 23,000 Mw was added.

Last year, I wrote to Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on how it was amazing that the impression put out by the power ministry was something completely different. While the first year of the Eleventh Plan (2007-12) has seen an addition of 9,200 Mw, the second year will see 12,000 Mw added.

In effect, the first two years will see an addition of almost the same capacity as the entire Tenth Plan. But achieving the Eleventh Plan target of 80,000 Mw is going to be a big challenge.

So is capacity addition your agenda?

Yes, we need to ensure that projects underway get commissioned. But, to my horror I have discovered that we do not have a computerised, online MIS (management information system) for projects. I spoke to Nandan Nilekani, who four years back had done a report of how information technology (IT) can be used to transform power management.

That report is being dusted off. As I see it, the ministry's job is to monitor progress and follow the Infosys model of 'under-promising and over-achieving', as opposed to the government model, which is 'over-promising and under-achieving'.

The challenge before us is to ensure that the 51,000 Mw under execution are implemented.

If it is done, whoever is the power minister (and I will not be) in 2011-12, should get the Bharat Ratna.

There are crucial appointments that are pending, for instance, the head of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission.

I cannot understand why the post has been lying vacant for a year now. I spoke to the Prime Minister's principal secretary, and I believe it will be done within a couple of days.

The showpiece ultra-mega power project initiative, which aims to put in a dozen projects of 4,000 Mw each, seems to be floundering on implementation issues. What's you view?

The 12 projects envisaged are critical to our capacity addition plans. Three have already been allotted (Sasan, Mundhra and Krishnapatnam). No UMPP will generate power in the Eleventh Plan period, not even Sasan, whose capacity is not part of the 80,000 Mw target.

How many more such projects do you think will be allotted in the tenure of this government?

We have a year left. I would like to see at least three to four more be allotted by then.

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Siddharth Zarabi in New Delhi
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