The results of the most bitterly contested assembly election in Assam will be out on Thursday. The likely composition of the powers-be in Dispur has been uppermost in the public mind, with various exit polls coming out with their predictions. But the political moves and counter-moves in the coming days should not obscure what lies beneath — how Assam is faring on the road to development, whether it risks turning into a failed state economically. Its farm sector remains stagnt with most of the government support leaking away, its manufacturing base continues to be rrow and fragile with too scanty power. As per Central data, even the modest peak hour demand of 1,526 MW in Assam is substantially beyond its reach; the state is generating and procuring a total of 1,198 MW, the shortfall being nearly 21.5 per cent in 2015-16. Four years back, the shortfall was 5.31 per cent. The peak hour demand is estimated to be 2,417 MW by 2019. Can the state raise its power generation by over 900 MW in three years? The people need to hear whether political parties have drawn up any feasible roadmaps at all towards more power. State Power minister Rakibul Hussain’s promise of 24x7 power from January this year was not taken seriously even when it was made. The BJP too has made the promise of assure power supply to every household ‘if elected to power’, but whether it gave its word merely to get votes remains to be seen. It is estimated that there are over 36 lakh rural households in Assam who are yet to get power supply regularly. In terms of un-electrified villages as a whole, Assam has been placed just below Odisha in a recent Central report. As on April, 2015, there were 2,892 un-electrified villages in Assam, 947 of which were connected with electricity in 2015-16. That is not saying much, however. Because power is in the concurrent list, the Central government’s power schemes like Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yoja (RGGVY) and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yoja (DDUGJY) have focused on creating village electricity infrastructure through policy and fincial support. The task of electrifying households through last mile connectivity is left to the state government. If even 10 per cent households in a village are electrified, the village as a whole is considered electrified.
Interestingly, while over 91 per cent of villages in Assam are said to be electrified, over 36 lakh rural households are un-electrified or irregularly electrified! This is but one example of the sort of governce going on in this state over the years. With the Central government now aiming at connecting 100 per cent households of 18,452 un-electrified villages in 1,000 days, the next Assam government will have to overhaul its act considerably. Can the state take a bold plunge and go all out to achieve complete electrification in 3-5 years? For this to come about, New Delhi and Dispur need to cooperate rather than lay the blame at each other’s door. A state with hydro resources pegged at 650 MW has been singularly lacking in initiative to take full advantage of it. Any talk about hydel power veers off to the big dam controversy and gets hopelessly politicized. It is another matter that both the UPA and the NDA at the Centre have covertly or overtly subscribed to the big dam lobby’s argument of profitability through scale. Union Minister of State for Power Piyush Goyal while recently informing Parliament about power plants operatiol in Assam, also spoke about projects to be commissioned, primarily the 2000 MW Subansiri (Lower) hydro project, Unit- II of the 250 MW Bongaigaon thermal project and the 70 MW mrup gas turbine. Power planners at the Centre along with their counterparts in Assam need to thresh out the dam height issue with all stakeholders; they should also push for solar power projects in a big way, as in Tripura.