Power Outages -My Solutions

Karan Thapar wrote a column on power outages in New Delhi. I don’t know why it took so long for him to write on the subject that since decades has been of the top most national importance. It reminded me of my solution many years ago at Hind Motors. Perhaps Karan is suggesting a similar one.

Let me go back 43 years down the memory lane. It was a strike and lock out at Hindustan Motors, Uttarpara plant, a routine affair prior to the Durga Puja, the bonus time in West Bengal. Left unions were in the damaging mode for the industrial sector rather for any big business in the state. I had been already working directly with workforce for a decade or more, and had earned a bad name for my fearless and tough but rational stands.

We were living at that time in one of the Engineers’ flats inside the factory premises. Yamuna was expecting her first baby. Suddenly, one evening we got information that the rogues in union might attack the residences of engineers’ flats to create pressure for a settlement with management. I had a number of friends. We decided to guard ourselves. All the young male members came down and made arrangement to keep vigilance throughout the night. Some laid some wooden cots at the entrances of staircases and made arrangement to pass time playing cards with crowbars under the cots. Suddenly the power went off. We decided to go and meet the factory manager. He was also living in the factory premises a little away. Surprisingly, they had power in their flats. We informed the factory manager about the outage and requested to get it restored. He was hesitant and tried to shift the blame to union activists. After some persuasive dialogue, I lost my cool and the leader in me came out. I almost threatened. ‘If our power is not restored soon, we shall see that there is no power in your residence too.’ And the stand worked. We got the power back. The factory manager later on complained to the president against me. But the president knew me for my sincerity and devotion to the work. I could explain my stand successfully and escaped any damage.

I can tell Karan what Delhites must do. They must go and switch off the power line of power minister and warn to do the same for the residences of Sonia and Man Mohan if things don’t improve. If Delhites would have resorted to this solution, Delhi would not have faced power shortage today. It would have been solved many years ago. The present kings, queens and their ministers lead trouble-free lives and so don’t get the problem solved.

Few days ago I heard a discussion of one experts’ panel on the budget and growth. One of the gentleman suggested prime minister to give a part of his official time every day to the problem of power, as it is one thing that has been the most important reasons for restricting the growth and development in India over so many decades. Perhaps that is the way the shortage can be solved. If the delegation of responsibility doesn’t work, the head must take the responsibility in own hand and set example for the team members by performance. Why can’t PM monitor at least the eight ultra mega power projects that can add 32,000 MW of power in national grid? Why can’t the power plant be completed in three years or less? Why does an engineering project become political programme? Why should a minister with poor record of performance of years in office get back the same ministry? Should it be justified only because he represents a vote bank?

Should not the prime minister take notice of the alarming World Bank report, that says, ‘despite 18 years of power reforms, over 40 per cent of the country’s population is without electricity, 60 per cent of Indian firms and a large percentage of homes rely on captive or back-up generation’?

Does not the government appreciate that the power problem is more acute than that of Air India for which it is taking the very bold step of restructuring and bringing in the best brains such as Ratan Tata, Narayana Murthy, Sam Pitroda and the former TCS chief S. Ramadorai in the board.

Just one efficient step to reduce or to eliminate the huge T&D losses (in a lighter vein it is called “theft and dacoity” losses) can bring a miracle to power poor India. (For every unit of power produced, the sector loses Rs 1.) The Power Minister has promised power for everyone by 2012. Will he on his own resign, if he fails?

Can Indians hope to be out of this regular nightmare of power outages without notice ever? Yes they can, if they follow my formula.

PS: Surprisingly, HT today reports, Prime Minister Office’s (not Prime Minister) concerns about power problem.

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