Raj Kumar Singh, the new minister of state for power and new & renewable energy, comes at a time when the sectors are facing a new crisis. In three years, the sector has shifted from supply deficit to demand deficit. Singh has dual task at his hand – to meet the high expectations that the outgoing minister has left him with and to keep the states along for steady growth of power sector.
Former home secretary and Lok Sabha MP
from Arrah, Singh is not new to dabbling tough tasks at hand. In his illustrious IAS career spanning four decades, Singh has taken on ministers, Hindu extremists, and terrorists.
He came to the limelight for arresting veteran BJP leader L K Advani in 1990 in Samastipur (Bihar) when the latter was taking out his Rath Yatra. It was under Singh’s tenure as union home secretary that both Mumbai attack terrorist Ajmal Kasab and Parliament attack case terrorist Afzal Guru were hanged to death.
Singh joined BJP after his retirement from IAS in 2013. While in the party ranks, he criticised the procedure to distribute tickets during state elections in Bihar in 2015. BJP lost the state elections.
Power sector especially clean energy under last minister Piyush Goyal grabbed headlines which also spurred its slow growth. But key challenges still remain. The power demand growth is stagnant owing mostly to financially sick status of state owned power distribution companies (discoms). This has had a domino effect over the whole supply chain with power plants running at half capacity, muted coal supply and industrial growth.
At the same time, the brouhaha over clean energy has settled now with the sector facing harsh truths. The state governments are either reneging old contracts or not signing new ones as tariffs in both solar and wind witness a free fall.
For Singh, whose first posting was in the state electricity board of Bihar, this could be life coming a full circle. Having faced ground level challenges in electricity supply at the beginning of his career, Singh would be expected to work along with the states. Some of the flagship schemes dear to PM Modi such as rural electrification, 175 GW of clean energy by 2022 depend on states improving their finances and operations.
Singh has his task cut out thanks to a plethora of schemes and apps to monitor the same, as launched by his predecessor. What is to be seen is how he manages multiple stakeholders and yet fulfill the goal of power for all, by 2019.