Managing the crisis

Most of the southern and western States, and even the normally surplus States in the north-east, are now going through a major power crisis. Power generation has suffered because of poor hydel storage, thanks to a truant monsoon. Compounding the problem, States that usually come to the help of large consumers in such a predicament have themselves run into difficulties in thermal generation on account of vagaries in coal supply. As a result, States like Maharahstra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala have to contend with a major shortage. In Tamil Nadu, there is no power cut, officially, but unscheduled load shedding is freely resorted to. At the national level, the gap between power generation and demand has been widening steadily, and it is due not a little to the persisting slippage in targeted addition to the generation capacity during the last two Plan periods. Power-deficit Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, which have been regularly buying power from the Central undertakings, could not do so this year because their neighbours, who are also in distress, happen to draw their full entitlement from the regional grid. Also, none of the power trading corporations has been able to make up the shortfall. The result: power outages, tripping, power cuts, and unscheduled load shedding for a few hours every day.

If the supply side of power position is thus beset with severe constraints, the demand side has its own quota of problems for the power managers and administrators. While the overall shortfall in electricity demand for the country is placed at 15-20 per cent, the shortfall faced by several States in peak demand now is reported to range from 20 per cent to 30 per cent. Specifically, following the sharp rise in the price of diesel, there has been a big jump in demand from and consumption by the farm sector. Confronted as they are with heightened difficulties on both supply and demand fronts, the State Electricity Boards are constantly working on contingency plans to tide over the crisis and fondly hoping that the monsoon will revive and fill the hydel reservoirs before long. The authorities would do well to use more purposefully the grid structure and the consultation mechanism that already exist. Some restrictive measures may be inevitable, but the least the consumers expect is transparency. Whether it is staggering of supply, rotational load shedding or any other, prior intimation to the user-group will surely go some way in mitigating the hardship.

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