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Saturday, July 04, 2020

After `750-cr facelift, a quiet burial

The decision to shut the plants was taken by the government after a sub-committee formed by the Cabinet comprising Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, the then Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh and Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi recommended shutting them down as these were turning unviable.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | Published: June 24, 2020 1:06:31 pm
After `750-cr facelift, a quiet burial The Punjab Cabinet on Monday gave the nod for the redevelopment of the 1,764 acres of the Bathinda power plant. Express photo by Gurmeet Singh.

The iconic Guru Nanak Thermal Power Plant at Bathinda, Punjab’s oldest thermal plant that now faces dismantling after being shut down by the incumbent government, was renovated by successive state governments in eight years at the cost of Rs 750 crore.

The four units of thermal power plant were set up in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979 after spending Rs 100 crore. The 8-year renovation process costing Rs 750 crore started with unit number 2, which saw its overhaul completed in 2006, followed by unit number 1 in 2007, number 3 in 2012 and number 4 in 2014.

“After renovation, the number 4 unit worked only for 100 days before it was shut,” a senior engineer of Punjab’s power department told The Indian Express.

However, the thermal plant became a victim of various governments that were instrumental in providing conducive environment to private power plants at the cost of state’s own iconic coal-fired thermal plant.

The reduction in load factor started when the controversial Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) were signed with private thermal plants. The PPAs were signed during SAD-BJP government. In 2016, the Bathinda thermal plant was run only for 15 days in a year.

This was the announcement of days to come. By then the protests had started by various organisations as the 2017 Assembly elections were approaching.

During that time Finance Minister Manpreet Badal was the head of manifesto committee of Congress and he made a promise in the manifesto that they would bring the government owned thermal plant back to its pristine glory.

The Congress including its senior leader Sunil Jakhar, who is now the PPCC president had raised the issue of PPAs vociferously and had promised that the Congress if elected would not only revive the government thermal plant, but also cancel the PPAs.

Manpreet Badal had in his speeches in Bathinda told the people that the chimneys of the thermal plant would work again.

But soon after the Congress came to power in 2017, it decided to shut the thermal plant completely. The decision to shut the plants was taken by the government after a sub-committee formed by the Cabinet comprising Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, the then Power Minister Rana Gurjit Singh and Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi recommended shutting them down as these were turning unviable.

The sub-committee’s report said units were unviable as the power was available for Rs 2.47 to 2.97 per unit in the open market while PSPCL was spending Rs 3.57 to Rs 4.43 on production of every unit of electricity in these units.

It was said the Bathinda thermal plant was switched on only for 15 days during the last year that too during the peak season when the daily demand crossed 11,000 MW.

“When a huge establishment would work only for 15 days, it would become a burden to run it throughout the year.

The cost of per unit would obviously go up. The power plant became a victim of vested interests who wanted to benefit the private players instead of helping the state’s own plant,” an engineer asked.

After the Cabinet Sub-Committee announced its decision to shut the power plant in January 2018, the Board of Directors of PSPCL passed a proposal prepared by the engineers that advocated converting unit four into a bio mass power plant. This was to use the paddy stubble for producing power.

“Each unit was costing Rs 4 with zero pollution. Plus it was helping in residue management of paddy. A team of engineers from Denmark was consulted who paid various visits to the thermal plant and said the project was viable. The proposal was to be discussed by the Cabinet. But on the insistence of a minister, the proposal was shelved,” a source said.

It took about two years for the government to finally come up with a proposal to demolish the iconic structure and sell the land to set up city centre and an industrial park.

But questions remain. The industrial parks in Rajpura and Mattewara have no takers despite Rajpura being on National Highway, being a railway junction and its proximity to Chandigarh airport. Bathinda is considered backwaters of Malwa in Punjab. It remains to be seen how the industrial park would attract investors.

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