The Eleventh Five Year Plan promised “power for all” by 2012, with an additional capacity of 100,000Mw being generated. While more political power has come the way of the ruling party, its promise to deliver electric power to the people remains far from being fulfilled. No one disagrees with the lament that performance on the power generation front has been one of the most important failures of the United Progressive Alliance government. Even Congress spokespersons routinely admit this on television talk shows. To be fair, it is not just the Congress and its ministers who are to blame. Few state governments, and most of them are run by non-Congress parties, have a good track record. Together, governments at the Centre and in the states have an abysmal record of capacity creation and utilisation in the power sector. But failure of leadership at the top is manifest and waiting to be addressed. The numbers tell it all. According to data released by the Central Electricity Authority, capacity addition in power generation continues to fall woefully short of target. In the period April-September 2009, total capacity addition in electricity generation was 4,433Mw against a target of 6,462Mw, amounting to about 31 per cent shortfall. This comes on top of years of under-performance. In 2008-09, under-achievement of target was as high as 66 per cent, and in 2007-08, it was a shockingly high 74 per cent. Any student with marks like these would be failed. The time is long past when whips ought to have been cracked. Today’s poor performance is a reflection of yesterday’s inactivity.
The silver lining on the power front is, of course, the fact that several new private sector ultra-mega power projects are scheduled to come on stream and power generation is expected to improve in coming months. Ensuring this ought to be the number one priority for the government on the infrastructure front. More shocking than the poor performance in capacity addition in thermal power generation, where achievement is 72 per cent of target, is the abysmal performance in nuclear power generation. Against a target of 220Mwe for April-September 2009, actual capacity addition is nil! This figure stands out in contrast to the Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE’s) stated aim of generating 20,000Mwe of nuclear energy by 2020! A variety of factors may have been responsible for this poor performance, but the DAE and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd must take a fair share of the blame for not anticipating some of these problems. The time has come for the government to open up nuclear power generation to private sector investment. Necessary changes must be made in existing law to enable private investment in nuclear power. Even the prime minister’s Economic Advisory Council has urged this. A required legislation on nuclear liability is waiting to be introduced in Parliament so that private investment can come into the sector. Hopefully, the government will use the winter session of Parliament to get this legislation through.