India&’s energy requirements are enormous and the demand is only growing. In the 2009-10 Union budget, the proposals presented on the floor of Parliament by then Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee underlined that the government needed to adopt innovative schemes aimed at reducing the gap between demand and supply in the power sector. However, policy paralysis in the previous Central government hindered concrete decision-making on the issue. Rising above party differences, elected MPs from the North-eastern states in both houses of Parliament met Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently and demanded that necessary strategies be devised for the holistic development of the power sector, especially in the context of the region.
In their list of suggestions, the law-makers stressed on renewable energy and for the government to take necessary steps for a “saffron revolution”. Leaving aside rhetoric, the delegation led by former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma and comprising the likes of Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland People&’s Front) and PD Rai (Sikkim Democratic Front) said that “off-grid solar systems could be especially useful for remote and inaccessible areas considering that the Northeastern region has the highest share of unelectrified villages in India”.
The memorandum said, “In a state like Assam, there is considerable scope for augmenting renewable energy capacity as the state sees 240 to 260 clear days every year and has a total solar power potential of 4.4-5.6 KWH per square metre per day.” On 9 April, Union minister of state (independent charge) for power, coal, new and renewable energy Piyush Goyal visited the region and while addressing a conference of power ministers in Guwahati announced that the Centre would invest Rs 10,000 crore in the power sector of the North-eastern states.
It has to be kept in mind that the industrial consumption of power in the North-east accounts for a mere one per cent of the national figure for the same. However, it is expected to increase if the region taps into its industrial potential. In this context one is also tempted to emphasise that there will be an urgent need to develop grid linkages with Bangladesh and Myanmar. The joint statement by the Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh in Dhaka also laid out details of “joint power and connectivity projects” being undertaken by Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal — a move that will definitely help the North-east. To the erstwhile UPA regime&’s credit, a 35-year power transmission agreement was signed with Bangladesh in 2010 that facilitated the eastern neighbour to import 250 MW.
The recent diplomatic overtures between India and Bangladesh are actually seen as the right follow-up to Indo-Nepalese and Indo-Bhutanese cooperation in the power sector, started a few years back. The Bhutanese power sector, which contributed almost 45 per cent of the country&’s gross revenue, got a major boost with the 1,020-MW Tala hydroelectric project.
In fact, treading a focused policy and realising the full potential of a 30,000-MW hydel power project, Bhutan has recorded a positive balance of payment with India due to the export of power. Generation of power in these South Asian nations, including Myanmar, can bring in dividends for the Northeastern region as well. One must say that in pursuance of the Act East Policy, the Modi government will have to augment the availability of power by addressing all parts of the supply chain in the Northeast — generation, transmission and distribution.
The North-eastern states for their part must also come forward with innovative suggestions.