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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Punjab: Steep fall in power generation as farmers’ ‘rail roko’ hits coal supply to thermal plants

While agriculture tubewells are getting power supply only for two hours, the domestic consumers are facing power cuts during peak hours. The state’s thermal plants have reduced their power production by almost half and are left with depleting coal supplies.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | October 10, 2020 6:29:49 am
Punjab farmers rail roko, fall in power generation, Punjab Farm unions protest, Farm bills, Chandigarh news, Punjab news, Indian express newsMembers of various farmer groups block rail tracks in Patiala on Friday. (Photo: Harmeet Sodhi)

The ongoing ‘rail roko’ agitation against farm laws has prompted power outages and load shedding in Punjab due to reduced power generation as the protest had severely hit incoming coal supplies.

While agriculture tubewells are getting power supply only for two hours, the domestic consumers are facing power cuts during peak hours.

The state’s thermal plants have reduced their power production by almost half and are left with depleting coal supplies.

Sources said that the situation could worsen in the coming days if the coal supply is not resumed immediately. Farm unions, meanwhile, have called a meeting on Saturday (October 10) in Barnala to take a call on relaxing the rail blockade.

“I can say that we will not allow a complete blackout. But the situation is going to worsen if the coal supply is not restored. The industry has just limped back to its normal production after Covid-19 lockdown. Now, power shortage is staring in our face. If the agitation continues, then we could face acute shortage of power,” A Venu Prasad, CMD, the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL), told The Indian Express.

While state owned thermal plants, including Ropar and Lehra Mohabbat, are not producing any power, the government is dependent on production from Rajpura, Talwandi Sabo and Goindwal Thermal Power Plants, besides purchasing power from other sources.

Depleting stocks a worry

The Ropar and Lehra Mohabbat thermal plants had produced 19 lakh units and 33 lakh units, respectively on October 8 last year, but these two coal-fired thermal plants have not been producing a single unit since mid-September.

The Talwandi Sabo Thermal Plant was left with coal supplies that would suffice only for two days, Rajpura Thermal Plant for five days and Goindwal Thermal Plant did not have any stock and was expected to shut down on Saturday.

The Talwandi Sabo plant is awaiting 30 rakes of coal, Rajpura plant had to receive 10 rakes, and Goindwal plant’s 8 rakes are stuck due to the agitation as the trains are not operating. As many as 4 rakes of Ropar plant and 5 of Lehra Mohabbat have been stopped on the way.

Drastic cut in power generation

While Talwandi Sabo reduced its production to 158 lakh units on Thursday from 240 lakh units on the same day last year, the Talwandi Sabo plant has reduced its production from 222 lakh units on Wednesday to 189 lakh units on Thursday.

Similarly, Goindwal plant’s production on Thursday was 383 lakh units on Thursday compared to 468 lakh units the same time last year.

“All plants are running at half the capacity to sustain operations. As shutting down and restarting units costs over Rs 1 crore each, these plants are trying to run to half the capacity,” a functionary said.

“We have been buying power from outside sources. But there is a technicality involved. We cannot purchase more than 6500 MW from the private sources. Also, there are transmission issues. And one cannot always rely on purchasing from the open market. If we are unable to get power from outside, we will face a huge problem,” said Prasad.

At present, the state has a demand of 7,000 MW and as industry is trying to get back to its normal production, the demand may go up in the coming days. This could lead to problems. Also, the power supply has been curtailed to agriculture feeders during the day as no immediate need for water is being felt.

The farmers, under the banner of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, have been squatting at rail tracks since September 24.

In a statement two days ago, CM Amarinder Singh had pointed out that due to the prolonged blockade of goods trains, the situation at Punjab’s coal plants was critical and they were left with only five to six days’ supply of coal.

The state is drawing 125 lakh units from Hero Power Plant, 132 lakh units from BBMB, 62 lakh units from National Hydro Power Corporation, 114 lakh units from National Thermal Power Corporation, 48 lakh units from Nuclear Thermal Power Plants.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, a farmer leader said that they were not willing to believe that the state cannot sustain without coal.

“Why are we connected to national grid? It is only to ensure that the state does not suffer a blackout. They are trying to harass the farmers by providing only two hours power supply to tubewells when the sugarcane and potato farmers need irrigation. Also, those who had sown late varieties of paddy need watering.”

He accused the Centre and state government of having a fixed match with Centre. “They want the agitation to be lifted. That is all.”

Farm unions meet today

Meanwhile, two days after announcing that they will go ahead with the ‘rail roko’ protest till October 15, farmer unions in Punjab will meet in Barnala on Saturday for a rethink on the decision.

Sources said that they will mull on relaxing the rail blockade going on at 33 locations in the state.

Confirming the same Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of BKU( Ugrahan) said, “All 30 farmer unions will be meeting on Saturday at Barnala over rail roko issue.”

Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of the union, said, “We are aware that there is shortage of coal, fertilizers and other goods in Punjab while food grains, potato etc. need to be moved out of Punjab so as to vacate godowns for storage of paddy. All farmer unions will decide about this appeal of the Punjab government on Saturday.”

DRM, Ferozepur, Rajesh Aggarwal said, “Apart from inconvenience to the people of Punjab, fuel supplies are not reaching J&K because of rail roko in Punjab. It is causing inconvenience to people. The revenue has been deferred, I repeat once again and hence, we cannot term it as loss.”

He added: “Though rail roko started in Punjab since September 24, but it was at select locations and moreover it used to be lifted during night hours due to which few goods trains were moving. Since October 1, we have not been able to run even a single goods train. So, movement of many essential goods has come to a halt.”

(WITH INPUTS FROM RAAKHI JAGGA IN LUDHIANA)

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