Amid soaring temperatures, Punjab is grappling with severe shortage of electricity, leading to the state government having to curtail timings of government offices from Friday, 2 July, and cutting down power supply to high-energy consuming industries.
While the measures announced by the Punjab government cited to save crops and ease the domestic power situation have given the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) ammunition to target Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and carry out protests, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu too, has taken the opportunity to suggest ways to solve the state's power crisis.
'Need Power Subsidy Plan Like Delhi': What Did Sidhu Say?
Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu on Friday took to Twitter to talk about the 'truth of power costs' and 'how to give free 24-hour power to the people of Punjab'.
"There is No need for Power-Cuts in Punjab or for the Chief Minister to regulate office timings or AC use of the Common People ... If we Act in the right direction (sic)," he tweeted.
In a series of nine tweets, Sidhu suggested that Punjab's "over dependence on on three private thermal plants at Rs 5-8 per unit makes Punjab pay more than other states", adding that the state "can purchase power from National Grid at much cheaper rates, but Badal-signed PPAs are acting against Punjab’s Public Interest".
"Punjab Vidhan Sabha can bring in new legislation with retrospective effect to cap power purchase costs to prices available on the National Power Exchange at any given time. Thus, by amending the law, these agreements will become null and void, saving money of the people of Punjab," he said.
He further suggested that Punjab must have its own power subsidy programme like that of Delhi.
"Punjab already gives 9000 Crore Power Subsidy but Delhi gives only 1699 Crore as Power Subsidy. If Punjab copies Delhi Model, we will get merely 1600-2000 Crore as Subsidy. To better serve the People of Punjab - Punjab needs an Orignal Punjab Model, Not a copied Model !! (sic)," he tweeted.
Interestingly, Sidhu, who was the minister for Tourism and Culture in Capt Amarinder Singh's cabinet was assigned the Power Ministry in June 2019 in a cabinet reshuffle. However, amid claims of him not taking over the portfolio and being a 'no show', Sidhu resigned as the state cabinet minister in July 2019.
What Has Triggered Punjab's Electricity Woes?
Punjab has its own generation of 5,500 MW from various sources, including solar, and purchases around 7,300 MW from the northern grid.
Currently, the demand is reaching over 14,000 MW against the supply of 12,842 MW, leaving a gap of 1,300 MW, an official told IANS.
To add to the woes, the state-owned Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd (PSPCL) on Thursday announced a two-day off for industrial consumers, barring essential service providers, with immediate effect, IANS reported.
"Due to prolonged dry spells, paddy transplantation and power shortage owing to the failure of one unit of the Talwandi Sabo thermal plant, the PSPCL is facing problem in meeting the power demand of more than 14,500 plus MW," PSPCL said.
It urged government and public sector offices to use electricity judiciously and switch off ACs till 3 July.
What Measures Did CM Amarinder Announce to Tackle the Crisis?
The Punjab government on 1 July passed an order to curtail the timings of government offices from 2 July, and cut down power supply to high-energy consuming industries.
According to IANS, Singh appealed to all government offices to make judicious use of electricity while stressing that the situation was dire as the peak demand in the state had touched a whopping 14,500 MW.
A government spokesperson told IANS that no decision on banning the use of ACs in government offices, which will function from 8 am to 2 pm till further orders, has been taken.
Singh also urged the agitating Power Department employees to call off the stir in the interest of the state's agriculture and industry as well as the domestic consumers amid the pandemic.
What is the Akali Dal Protesting?
SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal on 2 July led the protests against power cuts in the state, saying that the state government had failed to increase the power generation.
Addressing party workers amid protests in Lambi village, Badal, as quoted by The Tribune said, "Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh is least bothered about the power scenario in the state. The demand for electricity has increased with the passage of time, but he has not done anything to increase the generation. Some power plants are still not operating to their full capacity."
Calling CM Amarinder Singh 'nikamma' (useless), Badal said that he would visit Fazilka, Jalalabad and Jalandhar on Friday and 'won't rest for the next six months until the Congress is thrown out of power', The Tribune reported.
While SAD workers led by former minister Daljit Singh Cheema distributed hand fans in Ropar, MLA NK Sharma led a protest by the residents against the power cuts at Baltana.
Slamming Singh on Thursday, Badal was quoted by IANS as saying, "Farmers need power the most during the paddy season. Instead of the committed eight hours of uninterrupted power supply, they are being given three to four hours supply forcing them to spend thousands of rupees on diesel generators to save their paddy crop. All this is being done deliberately as part of a conspiracy to avoid paying subsidy to the state electricity utility for free power given to farmers in order to keep the subsidy bill down."
Badal also slammed the state government for 'punishing' the industrial sector for its deliberate failure to augment power supply.
'Amarinder, Like Badal, is Taking Bribes': What AAP Said
The AAP announced to 'gherao' the Chief Minister's farmhouse on Saturday, 3 July over the issue.
According to IANS, the party blamed that the high cost and shortage of power was the flawed power purchase agreements made by the previous Badal government. It also blamed the private thermal plants and the non-cancellation of the agreements by the present government.
"Like the Badals, the Captain government is also taking bribes from the power companies," AAP MLA and Youth Wing state president Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer told IANS.
Behind Pointed Remarks, Sidhu Owes Over 8 Lakhs in Electricity Bills
In another development in the “power” tussle, according to official records, Sidhu has pending electricity bills mounting to Rs 8 lakh, reported NDTV.
Sighting the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) website, NDTV reported that electricity bills worth Rs 8,67,530 have been charged to Sidhu’s Amritsar house.
The report, sighting sources, further added that last year Sidhu owed over Rs 17 lakh in electricity charges, of which he paid Rs 10 lakh this March.
(With inputs from NDTV)