Ministers U-turn to short-circuit Maharashtras power plans

Written by Sanjay Jog | Mumbai | Updated: Dec 18 2008, 07:49am hrs
The power-starved Maharashtra may still have to reel under load shedding as the newly appointed minister of state for energy Sunil Deshmukh continues to oppose four coal-based power projects with the total generation capacity of 4,570mw in his home district Amravati. According to Deshmukh, the allocation of land and water to these projects will further increase regional imbalance of the underdeveloped Vidarbha region. The projects entail a total investment of more than Rs 18,000 crore. It is to be noted that the minister's firm stand may hamper state's capacity addition to tide over the deficit of 5,000mw.

The list of the upcoming power projects include IndiaBulls-promoted Sophia Power Company project (2,400mw), TSR's power project (1,320mw), Eldeco's captive power project (50mw) and Wardha Power Company power project (800mw). The government has allotted 1,300 acres for IndiaBulls project. Also, 3.075 TMC water has been approved from the Upper Wardha irrigation project. In case of TSR project, 850 acres and 1.075 TMC of water has been allocated.

Cutting across partylines, imported coal, gas-based and nuclear power projects in the coastal Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts, with a total generation capacity of over 20,000mw, are being opposed on the grounds that they may spoil horticulture and fisheries of the region besides polluting the environment.

The project list includes Reliance Power (4,000mw), Tata Power (2,100mw) in Raigad district, Nuclear Power Corporation (10,000mw) in Ratnagiri district and ultra mega power project of 4,000mw in Sindhudurg district.

Interestingly, Deshmukh during his tenure as the minister of state for finance in the Vilasrao Deshmukh ministry supported the projects. However, after public pressure Deshmukh met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and took a U-turn. The minister argued that water allocation for these projects will severely affect the water availability in the Vidarbha region, which is still an underdeveloped region and possesses huge regional backlog. Besides, Deshmukh submitted that irrigation potential will be reduced if the water is made available to these projects.

Vidarbha is located in North East part of Maharahstra. It has an area of 97,92,200 hectare, which is around 31.65 % area of Maharahstra. Of this, around 58 % land is irrigational. The total irrigation potential of Vidarbha is 24,61,093 hectare. Up to June 1999, 10,78,000 hectare land has been brought under irrigation. In case of coal reserves, Vidarbha has 9,077 million tonne and thus houses a large number of power projects largely run by state-run Mahagenco. While Mahagenco has also planned capacity addition in Vidarbha, various private sector players, in addition to those mentioned above, have preferred Vidarbha due to coal reserves and the possibility of smooth coal linkage owing to Western Coalfields in close vicinity.

Though I have become a minister with a changed portfolio there will be no change in my stand on proposed four thermal power projects, Deshmukh said. We would not have opposed (the projects) had the state government given us one project but all the four are being imposed on this district which has the highest irrigation backlog as compared with other districts in Maharashtra. How can we allow the water meant for irrigation to be consumed by these power projects asked the minister. The projects can come up in the sugarcane-rich western Maharashtra or in Nashik district as the coal linkage is not a major problem.

The coal is now supplied from the Mahanadi coalfields situated in Orissa. Power projects also have not to depend on the Western Region Coalfields, an arm of Coal India for coal linkage, as the coal linkage can be organised from elsewhere, the minister opined.