West Bengal is presently one of the power surplus states in India. The demand for power in the state has been growing in the household and retail sectors. But it is not growing in the industrial sector. In an interview with BE’s Kishore Kumar Biswas, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Minister in Charge, Department of Power, Government of West Bengal, speaks on different aspects of the power sector in West Bengal.
Q. Uninterrupted power supply to households and industries is a big challenge in the country. Power cuts have been rising in West Bengal. What is your take on this?
A. In West Bengal, there has been no load shedding in the power sector. I am not saying that there have been no power cuts in the state. But that cannot be termed as load shedding. At times, we have to stop the supply of power in a region because of maintenance or repair work. There are issues that cannot be resolved without stopping the supply of power. But I want to emphasise that unlike many states, there are no regulated power cuts in West Bengal.
Q. Power theft is a big problem in the state. How would you like to address it?
A. Yes, it is and total loss due to this may be around Rs. 1000 crore per year. We have to minimise power theft. It is an ongoing process. We have been implementing the AB cable system in transmitting power. This will lower power theft to a great extent. We are already receiving reports regarding new applications for power subscriptions from those areas where power theft was a chronic problem.
Q. Presently the price of electricity is highest in West Bengal. Do you have any plans to lower it?
A. It is true that the price of electricity in West Bengal is on the higher side. Our cost of production is higher as it is mostly based on coal. It involves purchase of coal from the market at higher prices, its transport cost, cess and other costs. So our fuel cost, the major input cost to produce power is comparatively higher. Now we have been allocated coal mines. Work is going on in three of those mines and work will start in the other mines in due course. As a result, the cost of fuel will be lowered. In that case, our cost of power will also be reduced. I must also mention that our government gives power subsidy. The consumers who purchase up to
300 units get that subsidy from our government. Our chief minister is very generous about this. As a result, whenever the cost of power rises, our government does not increase the power tariff accordingly.
Q. Do you have any plans to sale subsidised power to the industrial sector to attract investment?
A. Not yet. Our government has to sell subsidised power to many poor and middle income households. After that, we are not in a position to sell subsidised power to others.
Q. The financial position of DISCOMs of many states are weak. What is the overall financial position of your department?
A. We are not in a critical position. Our chief minister has allocated a considerable amount of money in different developmental projects of the department. We are using that fund for modernisation. In one development project, namely the Strengthening and Extensions of Distribution Network (SEEDN) project alone, Rs. 700 crore has already been allocated and more funds are in the pipeline. There are many other developmental projects in which the chief minister has allocated substantial funds.
Q. What is the status of the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya Scheme) in the state?
A. It is a central scheme. It is already in operation in the state.
Q. Please elaborate about the status of the power storage units like that in Tunga. Do you have any plans to build more of such storage units?
A. These are electricity and water related products. It is used when power shortages arise. There are three such storage units like this in Purulia. As of now, we have no plan to build other storage units.
Q. What are your plans regarding solar projects?
A. Our present plan is to set up a solar power plant of 200 MW at a place near Mondarmani in East Midnapore. Another private solar project is being examined. That is a very big project with a capacity of 800 MW. That project requires 3200 acres of land and the developer will purchase it.
The government will only have to purchase power from them at an agreed price that can be amicably negotiated.
The government has to increase the share of renewable power in the state’s power mix.