“Power crisis” turns into hot topic of discussion in Meghalaya Assembly
The “power crisis” in Meghalaya is one of the most discussed topics in the ongoing budget session of the Assembly. Apart from suggestions and views, rants and tirades were also shared, with a blame-game being part of the discussion.
On the fifth day of the session, a short duration discussion was initiated by Congress MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh, which was participated by Mawlai MLA PT Sawkmie and Leader of Opposition Dr Mukul Sangma.
Initiating the discussion, the East Shillong legislator Ampareen Lyngdoh stressed the need for the Treasury and Opposition to work together to address the issues that are burdening the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL).
“This is not intended to assign some sort of absolute responsibility (to) the government of the day. When we raise these observations, the intention is that there needs to be a concerted effort on the government in totality, to try and find ways and means to redress all of these issues which are an accumulation of so many years of cumulative problems,” she said.
She raised issues relating to terminal benefits for the employees of MeECL, installation of smart meters, bill payment, online payments and others.
Similarly, Sawkmie raised doubts regarding the proposed installation of smart meters. He said there is a misunderstanding amongst the consumers regarding the applicability of the same.
He asked the government to think carefully before rolling out this project to prevent any misunderstanding or a blame-game as is already being witnessed with the agreement signed between the Government of Meghalaya and the National Thermal Power Corporation of India (NTPC) in 2007.
“This is a big project and, the cost of it is not less than Rs 232 crore… with the loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). There needs to be clarity on the installation of smart meters,” Sawkmie said.
Participating in the discussion, Leader of the Opposition (LO) Dr Mukul Sangma accused the government of attempting to “divert” the narrative, terming the attempt an “offshoot of a scripted modus operandi” in the power sector.
“The constant denial mode of the state government is something pathetic. I am amused by the stand taken by the government and, the smart attempt to divert the narrative and conversation about the evils that are taking place in the power sector - the evils which are an offshoot of mismanagement and greed,” Sangma said.
He has sought clarification from the government on the "Rs 11 crore figure" mentioned by the Chief Minister in his last reply.
On Tuesday, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said that based on the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) signed between the Government of Meghalaya and the National Thermal Power Corporation of India (NTPC) in 2007, the State Government is required to pay NTPC a fixed charge of Rs 11 crore every month despite not drawing power from them.
Reacting to this, the LO has demanded a clarification on the clause in the agreement that mentions a figure (Rs 11 crore).
Furthermore, Sangma said that PPA was signed after proper examination and, that it was a culmination of a long-drawn engagement while justifying that all States in the Northeast, including Assam, were signatories because of the challenge in the demand and supply of power at that time.
“This is a standard agreement approved by the Government of India. Every State signed it; not just Meghalaya. It states that if the thermal power station at Bongaigaon in Assam is established, we will be the beneficiaries. This was what they offered us - out of the total generation, 15 per cent will be left with NTPC and will be available with the Government of India for allocating to any State,” he said.
Referring to the Electricity Act 2003, Sangma said the tariff, as per Section 62 of the Act, is to be determined by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC).
“Telling this mess is because of Dr Mukul Sangma and the Congress government (shows) they don’t know what is written in this agreement; not even a single page made a mention of the money. These are all regulated by the Electricity Act 2003,” he added.
Furthermore, the former Chief Minister said the genesis of the crisis is to be discussed but, “They (government) don’t want to. They don’t have the intent to solve this mess. We have to focus on the challenges and issues. Let the CM call a meeting, inside or outside the House,” Sangma said.
In his reply, Power Minister James PK Sangma hit back at the Leader of Opposition for raising points that are “accusatory in nature”. According to him, the statements are just “mere allegations”.
He said that the load shedding problem is not a new issue in the State, adding that the government has been able to bring down the duration of load shedding in the State compared to the previous years.
Taking a dig at the LO, the Power Minister said that unlike his junior party members, no constructive criticisms were shared by Dr Mukul Sangma except “allegations and character assassination”, which according to him, does not befit the role of a leader of the Opposition bench.
“The statement that the LO has made of ‘evil offshoots of greed’ – these are bombastic words which have no relevance here. There has to be a certain amount of responsibility in the usage of our words. Whatever he has said are just mere accusations not substantiated by evidence and facts,” James Sangma said.
Referring to the PPA, Sangma questioned the mind of the then government for signing an agreement with a validity period of 25 years. “What kind of nonsensical clause is this? I do not understand the logic of why the government of that time would like to tie us down in this manner,” the Power Minister said.
He also touched upon issues relating to power theft, billing efficiency, the functioning of a junior officer as the Chairman-cum-Director of MeECL, addition of new consumers, smart meters, Atma Nirbhar loan, Ganol tariff rate, and others.
To a question raised by the LO relating to the clause in the agreement mentioning the figures in terms of monetary (the Rs 11 crore), James Sangma denied having uttered a word about the amount mentioned.
“I did not mention any figure here. I never mentioned the figure of 11 crores. I don’t know where this came from,” James said.
(Edited by Iban Mawrie)