Light at the end of the tunnel

80PiyushGoyal Piyush Goyal | Aayush Goel

A vibrant power sector is vital for the creation and development of a robust economy. However, the role of the power sector is not just economic, but has social dimensions. It powers crores of dreams; it fills crores of lives with not just the light from lamps and bulbs, but also the light of progress and hope. It is thus, inconceivable that anything short of total attention be paid to this life-blood of modern society.

When this government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to office, we found this sector to be in a sorry state of affairs. Even after seven decades of independence, nearly 30 crore people lived with no access to electricity even while power generation capacity lay idle; two-thirds of the power plants faced critical stocks of coal, with the coal sector in a mess; and investments worth lakhs of crores were stuck in a quagmire of administrative, financial and legal problems.

Perform or perish
At the heart of this darkness was a landscape riddled with shortsighted planning, corruption and the inability to take decisions. Yet the electorate had given us an overwhelming mandate, and dithering was not an option. From the day we entered office, work has been on a war footing. Our vision is of 24/7 affordable, quality and environment-friendly ‘Power for All’ by 2022—something we are working on to achieve by 2019.

Connecting the unconnected
Across the country there were villages in remote areas that were still untouched by the most basic of amenities—electricity. This unfortunate situation is being corrected at a scorching pace. Around half of the 18,452 villages have already been electrified, and the work of the states is being closely monitored to ensure they complete the remainder by May 2017 (except for areas affected by left-wing extremism), about a year ahead of schedule. We can now move one step ahead and change our focus to connecting all the households, particularly in rural areas. At the recent power minister’s conference in Goa, a timeline was adopted to achieve 100 per cent household electrification by 2019.

Shortage to surplus
Shortages had become endemic to the power sector. Among our early initiatives, we took the bold decision to dramatically increase the production of coal. Within a year, we had ensured that not a single thermal plant faced coal shortage. This has directly impacted electricity generation, which grew by 7.03 per cent in 2014-16 as compared to 5.65 per cent in 2004-14, and is surging ahead by around 8-9 per cent this year.

Building infrastructure
Continuing with our abhorrence for shortages is the continuing focus on building infrastructure not just for our immediate needs, but keeping in mind the long-term requirements of the fastest growing developing economy in the world. During 2014-16, the increase in conventional generation capacity by nearly 25 per cent, increase in transmission lines by 50 per cent as compared to the UPA government’s last two years, and the highest ever sub-station capacity additions are a product of fast decision making. Investments are being further accelerated in the distribution sector.

While conventional power will continue to be the bedrock of the power sector for the foreseeable future, India has taken a leadership role in the world in promoting renewable power generation. The International Solar Alliance will be headquartered in India. The doubling of the solar capacity wwin the last two years, and the highest ever wind capacity addition last year, are just the beginning. More than 20,000MW solar capacity was bid in the most transparent manner ever, in the last year alone; and we are well on track to achieve our ambition of 175GW from renewable energy.

Energy efficiency
An ambitious target of replacing 77 crore bulbs and 3.5 crore streetlights by LED lights has been launched. A low hanging fruit, the scale of the Ujala programme was exponentially increased from 6 lakh LED bulbs distributed in a year in 2013-14 to 6 lakh being distributed every day now. The nation will save substantially from the released load on power infrastructure, and consumers are expected to save around Rs 40,000 crore a year in electricity bills. The launch of energy efficient fans and agriculture pumps will add significantly to savings of consumers and farmers.

Of all the links in the value chain, what vexed us most was the distribution sector, which is dominated by inefficient cash-strapped Discoms. There is no point building a kitchen if the food is not going to reach the dining table. To solve this problem, UDAY, the most comprehensive power sector reform ever, was launched. Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana aims to turnaround Discoms within four years through operational and financial efficiencies. This voluntary scheme, designed with inputs of all stakeholders, has found great acceptance with most states, including opposition-ruled states, having agreed to join and improve their operations in a time bound manner.

Accountability and transparency
The opaqueness in decision-making and complete lack of accountability had almost brought the entire power sector to its knees. The successful coal block auctions and allotments, which could bring potential revenue of Rs 3.44 lakh crore to coal bearing states, are testimony to our transparency. The development of mobile apps—Garv (rural electrification), Vidyut Pravah (electricity price and availability) and Ujala (LED distribution)—are all initiatives to involve the public in our programmes and foster accountability.

Partners in progress
All this was made possible not by unilateral, arbitrary decisions, but by structured assessment and resolute actions taking along all stakeholders. Power is a concurrent subject, and our faith and commitment to cooperative federalism has helped hasten this historic movement towards ensuring that power becomes accessible to the poor of this country.

We have not reached the end of this journey. But we are getting there. We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Goyal is Union minister of state with independent charge for power, coal, new and renewable energy, and mines.

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