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Assam’s Power Scenario

India has been independent for almost 71 years. There are different ways of looking at independence. One sensible, no-nonsense way of doing so is to acknowledge the fact that we have acquired the means to be responsible for our future instead of expecting other people to shoulder the task. The implication of this is that we have the power and the freedom to assess our needs, aspirations and priorities in order to work for the greatest good of the greatest number. Quite a few Asian countries that had been colonies attained independence soon after India did. For most of them, an important objective was to achieve a certain level of industrial development after decades of stagnation under colonial rule. And since one cannot think of any level of industrial development without electricity, there was a lot of importance given to power generation in all these countries. India too made commendable strides in increasing its power generation. Fortunately, India had a few princely States like Mysore and Baroda that were pace-setters for the rest of India in respect of power generation. However, one State that lagged behind very badly in the matter of power generation was Assam. This was rather surprising, because even during British rule, there had been fairly efficient power supply systems in towns like Jorhat run by private entrepreneurs. It was when the government took up the business of power generation and distribution that we began to see a steady decline in this vital undertaking. This was rather unfortunate, because instead of doing everything possible to cope with the sharp increase in the population of the State, power generation in the State declined alarmingly.

The present power scenario in Assam is certainly very alarming because quite a few power projects have become dysfunctional and there has been very little addition to the power generation capacity. The four 60 MW thermal power generators at Bongaigaon have long ceased functioning. We get about 60 MW from Lakwa and about 100 MW from the Karbi-Langpi hydroelectric project at the best of times. As such, the total power generation is a measly 253 MW when the daily minimum requirement during the summer months is 1,820 MW. So about 1,590 MW of power has to be bought from elsewhere. As such, out of the 68 lakh families living in Assam, only a little over 24.10 lakh families (35.44 per cent) have power in their homes. So the announcement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made recently about all villages in India having electricity does not hold good for Assam. We have reached a stage where we dare not even talk about any kind of development projects for the State. This is what successive generations of political executives and bureaucrats have achieved for Assam in over seven decades of independence. However, it is heartening to learn that Bongaigaon is awaiting the installation of two generators of 500 MW each.

Considering the application of electricity in all facets of development in the present-day world, and virtually in all life-saving medical applications, it is ironical that in Assam electricity should have been responsible for taking so many lives. During the last 10 years, 1,077 people have lost their lives in Assam due to electrocutions. This is a facet of irresponsible power generation and distribution in our State for which the entire administrative machinery connected with power must accept full responsibility. It is saddening to think that bureaucrats who have absolutely no compunctions about hiking their salaries should be so lackadaisical about ensuring the required increase in power generation to match the increased consumption of power in the State in seven decades!

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Ankur Kalita