Bangalore: Industrial units in Bangalore may have to work at odd hours and even on holidays to combat rolling blackouts, the bane of India’s power-short economy.
The electricity shortfall is likely to force industrial estates in the city, capital of Karnataka and known as India’s technology hub, to stagger their work timings and days off, something they have never done before although it is a common practice in states such as Maharashtra.
“It (the power crisis) has never been so severe,” said Aravind N.Burji, president of the Karnataka Small Scale Industries Association, adding that units in the Peenya industrial estate where he has a manufacturing plant staggered their days off last week.
To be sure, power shortages are a nationwide phenomenon. In 2007, India generated 135,006MW of power, insufficient to meet rising demand in an economy expanding at the fastest pace after China.
Though the Union government had forecast the addition of 41,110MW in the 10th Plan to 2007, it could achieve only half the target partly because of delays in technology alliances and lack of funds.
In June, consulting firm McKinsey and Co. warned that India’s economic growth, which averaged almost 9% in the past four years, could be derailed because of its inability to address the power shortage, and asked the government to act fast to add generating capacity, attract private sector investment, reform electricity distribution and reduce transmission losses.
In Karnataka, the current power crisis stems from a failed monsoon. While other southern states also have had deficient rainfall, Karnataka is more vulnerable because 70% of its power is produced by hydel (water) resources.
While the state’s peak demand is 9,300MW, it generates about 5,500MW and gets another 2,500MW from the central grid and other suppliers, leaving a shortfall of about 1,300MW.
Poor rainfall in the catchment areas of the state’s major rivers has reduced water levels in its reservoirs.
Karnataka’s energy minister K.S. Eshwarappa told the state Assembly last week that the total power availability in the state’s three main reservoirs, as on 22 July, was 1,498 million units (mu) compared with 5,666mu on the same day last year.
Heavy rain over the weekend may rescue the situation, Eshwarappa said on Sunday, adding that the inflow, which was around 9,250 cusecs in the beginning of the month, in the Linganamakki reservoir at one of the three largest power generating stations in the state, now stands at 23,600 cusecs.
“Over the past 2-3 days, there has been rain in the catchment areas and we could think off easing the current load-shedding,” he said.
Last week, the state government had said it was contemplating power cuts ranging between 5 and 7 hours in urban areas of the state such as Bangalore (up from the present 2-4 hours) and 12-18 hours (up from 6-8 hours) a day in rural parts of the state.
Industries have been forced to rely on diesel-generated power. This has triggered panic buying of diesel to run generator sets in Bangalore, which oil companies say threatens to dry up stocks.
Diesel sales in Bangalore increased by 32% in July, against an anticipated 15% over last year.
According to a statement on Saturday by B.Ashok, general manager of Indian Oil Corp. Ltd for Karnataka, around 9,500 kilolitres of diesel was supplied to petrol pumps in Bangalore over four days last week, 80% more than the average sales during July last year.
“Availability (of diesel) is better now, but not totally normal,” Bhushan Narang, president of the Bangalore Petroleum Dealers Association, said on Sunday.
“If oil companies maintain supplies, we expect the situation to improve,” he added.
Lengthy queues have been seen since Thursday at petrol pumps, some of which opted to ration supplies to 10 litres per customer. This has also led to a black market in diesel supplies with the fuel being sold in the black market at twice its price.
According to Burji, the cost of one unit of power produced by a diesel generator would be around Rs7-8, compared with the Rs4 per unit charged by Bangalore Electricity Supply Company.
The state government has announced that it is likely to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Chhattisgarh government to set up a 1,000MW hydel plant there at a cost of Rs2,000 crore.
Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh has agreed to provide 100MW of power immediately to help out his Karnataka counterpart and his Bharatiya Janata Party colleague, B.S. Yeddyurappa.