Tired of unending power cuts, Sai Giridhar Rai, a farmer in Karnataka’s coastal Dakshina Kannada district picked up the phone, dialled the state’s Power Minister and let off some steam. He was promptly arrested on the charge of abusing the minister. Though the use of abusive language cannot be justified, he cannot be blamed for what he did. It’s still early summer but temperatures are already nearing 40 degree Celsius in coastal areas — at least a couple of degrees above normal for this time of the year. Add to that the erratic power supply. Who can be blamed for losing their cool?
The incident highlights the grim power situation in Karnataka. While the power demand is increasing every year, the total generation has remained almost static. With summer setting in early, the state is faced with a sudden power crisis. The demand is expected to touch about 10,500 MW during peak summer, but the maximum supply is expected to be only around 9,000 MW. Though cities are spared, rural areas are already witnessing seven to eight hours of power cuts every day. The problem is compounded partly by the fact that most farmers are depending on groundwater due to deficient rainfall and using pumps to water their crops. Though the government has to deal with a power crisis earlier than expected, the problem was not entirely unexpected. Several parts of the state were reeling under up to 12 hours of power cuts just before winter. If the government let itself be lulled by the fall in demand during winter, it has only itself to blame.
Having done nothing in preparation for the harsh summer ahead, the government may now have to take drastic steps like scheduled and unscheduled load shedding and declaring industrial power holidays. Karnataka’s over-reliance on hydel power and glitches in thermal plants are cited as reasons for the prevailing power crisis. As a long-term measure, the state government must look to augment power generation and also scout for alternative sources, including renewable energy. But to deal with the crisis at hand, it has no option but to buy power from private parties and other states. Otherwise, the ruling class will have more people like Rai across the state to contend with..