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Politics in Karnataka is increasingly revolving around irregularities in power purchase, shortage of coal at thermal plants, and the imminent threat of a blackout across the state. While the issue has paved way for bitter political slugfest between the ruling Congress and the BJP in the poll-bound year, their hasty decisions and ill-conceived policies over the last few years on the allotment of coal block and coal linkage to Karnataka have not only crippled major thermal plants but also cost Karnataka at least Rs 900 crore. The additional burden, in all likelihood, will be transferred to the people of the state.
Amid the political blame-game, power generation companies such as Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd (KPCL) have been left in a crisis, forcing some of its units to shut operations due to shortage of coal. Of the 11 units of various thermal power stations of Karnataka, as many as seven were shut due to shortage of coal.
While each of the thermal plant was planned to source its share of coal from various coal fields, all of them have currently pinned their hopes on Singareni Collieries Company Ltd (SCCL) for their survival.
With Singareni meeting the majority of Karnataka’s coal requirement, officials at KPCL are worried about competition from other states on procurement of coal. Had the state’s political leaders been active enough at the centre to resolve the matter pending before the Supreme Court, there would be reason for hope.
DK Shivakumar received kickbacks in coal mining scam for paying Rs 447 crore as penalty. But what BJP forgot to notice is that in 2008, the state government, through global tender, had finalised on the joint venture company to carry out mining operations at Baranj captive mine allotted to Karnataka, before it was cancelled by the Supreme Court in the wake of multi-crore coal scam.
“The SC decision in the wake of the alleged scam was acceptable. But the sudden decision has left the state in the dark. By then, Bellary Thermal Power station (BTPS) was commissioned and without any coal linkage it was humanely impossible to run the plant. At least the centre should have intervened and suggested alternatives or ensured coal supply from other sources,” a KPCL engineer said.
Interestingly, no political party realised the impact of SC verdict on state thermal plants and kept silent all through the episode.
Even as the matter is still pending before the SC, no political party has evinced any interest in resolving the issue. “The consequence of losing a running mine and inability to resolve the present deadlock, the state is burdened with Rs900 crore. The Ballari plant (BTPS) was shut for six months due to shortage of water. Had we operated BTPS during the same period, the losses may have crossed Rs 1,500 crore. For no fault of the general public, they have been burdened with high tariff over the years,” said a top official from the Energy department.
Is Centre to be blamed?
Meantime, the state government’s effort to get a separate coal block for its future projects is also mired in controversy. During their tenure, Congress, JDS and BJP mooted several power projects and submitted detailed proposals to the Centre for allocation of coal blocks. While the projects began seeing the day light in Karnataka, there was hardly any progress by the Centre on allocation of coal blocks to Karnataka.
Planning for a third unit of BTPS, two units of YTPS (Yermarus Thermal Power Station, in Raichur), Yedlapur and Godhna (Chhattisgarh), the successive governments had made representations to the Centre several times. But for Karnataka, due to its poor political lobbying at the Centre, it was only assurances that mollified the state. No political party (unlike other states) took any interest in standing up for the state’s cause.
Ushering in hope for Karnataka’s power projects, even though the Centre allocated Deocha-Pachami block of West Bengal in 2014, it turned out to be an unrealistic offer. “The same block was also allocated for six states including Karnataka. The idea of six states sharing a block and extracting coal simultaneously is not only unimaginable, given the surging demand, but turned out to be impractical too,” an engineer from the Energy department said.
Adding to these impractical decisions by the Centre and its informal ban on import of coal from abroad, there was also an acute shortage of coal.
“Several rounds of talks have happened. Both the Chief Minister and Energy minister have personally met Coal minister and submitted the demand. Yet, the Centre is not acting on the decision and allocating a coal block to us. There is a limit for the state to act on its demand and we have done everything. I will be going to Delhi on December 7 and I will raise the issue of inordinate delay in allocation of coal blocks,” Energy minister DK Shivakumar said.
The state government sought for the allocation of coal block at Ghogarpalli in Odisha, which is just 80 km from Karnataka’s thermal plant at Godhna. This apart, the government also submitted a plan to use the same coal reserve available at Ghogarpalli to BTPS 2 and 3 units yet to be commissioned Yadlapur unit. Yet, the Centre is reportedly sitting on Karnataka’s file on coal block allocation without formally clearing it off.
Will Raman Singh help Karnataka?
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh dropped a bombshell a few days ago, accusing CM Siddaramaiah of cancelling the Chhattisgarh project. Raman Singh’s political statement at the behest of State BJP leaders has drawn severe criticism from the state government.
“When the government is going all out to get the coal linkage, where is the question of cancelling the project? The project has remained a mirage considering the fixed investment made by the state; we are trying our best to push for the project. If the Centre allocates the coal block, the tenders would soon be floated for construction and commissioning of the power plant,” explained an official of the KPCL.
“In fact, the Raman Singh led BJP government had issued a diktat to KPCL to not start the work on plant without getting a formal allocation of coal block. It is strange that Raman Singh has accused Karnataka of scrapping the project,” said the official.
Rumour has it that the BJP is keen on exploiting the situation ahead of the polls rather than coming to the rescue of state’s thermal plants. “Rather than attacking the state government, why cannot BJP leaders convince the BJP government in Chhattisgarh and the NDA-led Central government in granting coal allocation to state? The BJP leaders just want to project that Congress government was unable to give power,” said a source close to the Energy minister.
This never-ending political skirmish between two major parties has only pushed the state government to purchase more and more power when it has sufficient infrastructure to generate its share of power. “Uncertainty on these issues would affect power management in state. Ultimately, the government has to safeguard its reputation that too in a poll-bound year and it becomes inevitable on our part to go in for more and more purchase of power whose burden will only be passed on to the public,” said the source.
Siddaramaiah’s way out?
As the shortage of coal is affecting the operation capability of thermal plants, the state is mulling the import coal from other countries. Sources in KPCL told Mirror that there is no rule, either by the state or Centre, that forbids the state from importing coal from other countries. “The Centre, while stressing supply of coal only through Coal India Limited (CIL), has virtually halted import of coal. But it has not prevented any state from importing coal. But almost all states are fearful of importing coal, citing adverse action by the Centre against the state in terms of allocation of funds,” revealed an official.
The only state to defy that notion was West Bengal after its Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee decided to import a 2 lakh tonnes of coal from abroad during the Durga Puja celebrations to meet the demand. Now posed with the similar threat and inevitability to safeguard the government’s reputation and the financial position of state generators, Karnataka has also decided to import coal. Even though the import may be costlier by a few rupees, it would be practical for the state to generate its own power rather than spend on buying.
Energy minister DK Shivakumar said: “The CM has already approved our proposals and tenders have been called to import coal from abroad. About 10 lakh tonnes of coal will be imported from abroad, considering the alarming situation in which our thermal plants are functioning.Last month, BJP state president BS Yeddyurappa alleged that CM Siddaramaiah and Energy minister.
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