Sunday, March 18, 2012

Washing Dirty Linen in Public


Washing Dirty Linen in Public

By Debkumar Bhadra

The examinations are on and unlike the past, power cut in the guise of rotational load shedding is back haunting us at a time when it hurts the most. It is no surprise that the DG sets generating electricity in these islands develops technical snag and goes out of service every year exactly when the examinations commence. This year too is no exception. The public is reeling in darkness whereas those hired for production of electricity in these islands (SCPL: Surya Chakra Power Corporation Ltd) and the distributor (Electricity Department, A&N Admn) are out in the open blaming each other for the crisis situation.
Let us first take at look at what has been put in the public domain through newspapers by both the parties during the last few days.
The Daily Telegrams carried a news item in its front page (March 13th) which reads “Due to forced outrage of two 5MW DG set of 20 MW IPP, SPCL the Electricity Department will exercise two hours load shedding. Next day The Daily Telegrams (March 14th) carried another newsreport saying “Eventhough the administration is paying operational and maintenance charges of around Rs 35-40 lakhs every month to M/s SCPL, they neglected to carry out timely overhauling and the current breakdown resulted”
Andaman Chronicle in its 15th March edition carried this news “Reacting over the press note issued by the Electricity Department, A&N Administration regarding breakdown of two 5 MV DG sets, the General Manager (Tech), M/s Suryachakra Power Corporation Ltd said the allegations of the electricity department is baseless. In fact it is the non-cooperation by the electricity department which has resulted in the situation. The report further adds “the situation of breakdown of one engine and forcible shutdown of other engine as a precautionary measure could have been avoided had the Electricity Department heeded to request for monetary help” sought by SCPL.
Another daily, The Echo of India in its Port Blair edition dated March 15th quoted the General Manager (Tech), M/s Suryachakra Power Corporation Ltd as saying the electricity department is withholding payment on tariff invoice since commissioning of SPCL in April 2003 ie the Electricity Department needs to pay SCPL an accumulated arrears amounting to Rs 50 Crores. Due to non-payment of such huge amounts, SCPL is facing financial constraints hence unable to take up timely overhaul of the engines.
Going through the above reportings it is aptly clear the crisis situation leading to power cut has crept in because of serious lapses on the part of both the parties. The electricity department talks about “forced outrage of 2 DG sets” whereas SCPL clarifies “breakdown of one engine and forcible shutdown of other engine as a precautionary measure”. Such conflicting and contradictory statement issued by each of the two parties speaks volumes about mismanagement; exposing the prevailing disconnect between Electricity Department and SCPL which is known to have entered into a mutually agreed Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).
M/S SCPL being the company manning the electricity generating facility at Bambooflat in South Andaman, one is inclined to believe their version which says only one DG set has suffered breakdown and the other one has been shutdown as a precautionary measure. Having said so, it is well within anybodys guess that the breakdown leading to power crisis is superficial if not stage managed.
Further when payments is made by Govt to a private party, safeguards to ensure proper utilization of funds is only a pre-requisite. The onus is therefore on the Electricity Department to see to it that the funds paid for maintenance of DG sets are spent on maintenance of the DG sets so that interest of the Govt is protected and the public gets the service for which such payments are made.
There is no point washing dirty linen in public since such an act is neither going to solve the power crisis nor absolve the department from their responsibilities. Such unprofessional tactics indeed cast serious doubts on the functioning capabilities of the concerned authorities. If there is any lapse, appropriate provisions contained in the extant Power Purchase Agreement signed by both the parties could be invoked to set right the wrongs.
It is true commissioning of SPCL at Bambooflat has brought a sea change improving electric power availability compared to the pre SPCL era. Also M/S SPCL did a remarkable job restoring power supply within a short period of time after the 26 December 2004 Great Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake triggered tsunami devastated the powerhouse. But non-maintenance of DG sets leading to breakdown and load shedding especially at the time of board examinations every year is denting the image of the power generating company besides projecting the Electricity Department in poor light among the masses.
Ironically, this is not the only issue or instance when the hapless islanders have been taken for a ride. Apart from load shedding during board examinations, it is seen one or the other ship plying between mainland and island is sent for APS during summer vacation causing innumerable hardships for those willing to visit mainland. Further, tasks relating to augmentation of water supply such as raising the level of Dhanikhari dam, Rutland water project, Dilthaman tank and numerous other projects gain attention only after the onset of summer. Why is it so?
Why can’t the scheduled maintenance of DG sets be completed well before commencement of examinations? Why can’t the mainland bound ships be sent for APS sometime other than during school vacation? Why can’t the steps required to augment water supply be given the necessary boost during lean season so that water supply is ensured during summer?
Perhaps the authorities believe in the Mayans prophecy on the world in 2012, which prompts procrastination of important, urgent and time bound projects to stretch beyond 2012! But what would be the strategy if the world happens to survive beyond 2012.

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