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Vandana Gombar: The power of mega-dreams


Vandana Gombar  |  New Delhi 

Ram Vinay Shahi slept easy on Thursday. That was the day when the man at the helm of the power sector saw his vision "" of dotting the country with large "ultra" mega power plants of 4,000 MW each "" being transformed into reality.
The first bids for these plants were received on Thursday, and the response was far better than even the most optimistic expectations. "And these are not just paper applications. Almost Rs 2,000 crore of guarantees have been submitted with the 16 bids received," says an elated Shahi.
He stumbled on to the idea of mega power projects over a lunch meeting with banker A K Purwar, the former chairman of State Bank of India. The power secretary was asked why gargantuan 10,000 MW projects could not be planned to plug the huge gap between the demand and supply of power.
Shahi worked on the numbers with his team and out popped the idea of setting up ultra mega power projects of 4,000 MW each. The key point "" there would be no government guarantees for these projects.
Sceptics termed the proposal "" formally unveiled in January 2006 "" as a hot air balloon being floated by a man trying to save his job. Remember, the power sector has been under-performing and there simply hasn't been enough power to go round. He was the obvious person to blame for that.
It was tough to find supporters for the mega idea even days before the bid date. "When we are not getting enough private sector investment for smaller projects, how can such large projects find bidders," was the general refrain. Nevertheless, Shahi plodded on.
There are those who believe that Shahi was not blue-blooded enough "" he is not from the IAS cadre "" and the IAS lobby was out to undo his best intentions all the way. "I don't agree with that. I had full support and total cooperation from everyone, though I am not one of the cadre," says the man who has managed to bag the title of the country's longest serving power secretary.
He has been leading the sector for over four-and-a-half years now, a feat which his friends credit to his disciplined working. That comes naturally to this January-born technocrat (he refuses to give the year!), who has had earlier stints with BSES, NTPC and Steel Authority of India. His philosophy: the best should not be the enemy of good "" "80 per cent perfect decisions taken in time are better than 100 per cent perfect, but delayed decision," he says.
Admirers and friends say, he "is equal to 10 IAS officers," with typical 12-hour days "" nine-to-nine "" through the week. On Saturdays, he ensures that he is visiting a power plant in some state or other. "I was in Sikkim last week ... in Chhattisgarh ... in West Bengal ...," he says as he rattles off his last few visits.
The fact that there have been bids for these projects, and the fact that he intends to oversee a capacity addition of almost 13,000 MW before the end of the current fiscal, could mean an end to his perceived sins of omission and commission by the powers that be. He is widely expected to have sealed another extension for himself. And no, he has no plans to scale up to 10,000 MW plants for now. Maybe, during his extended tenure....

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First Published: Mon, December 11 2006. 00:00 IST