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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already announced the vision of achieving $ 5 trillion dollar Indian Economy by 2024.

The NDA government has also promised piped water supply to every household in the country by 2024.

This is not an extraordinary target. It is doable provided, everyone cooperates. This includes the corporate and private sectors, including all our own Indian stakeholders.

In January 2016, Guwahati was declared as a Smart City, the first in the northeast. Now, only time will tell us how much we have achieved in our declared targets.

To achieve the targets, one of the major critical infrastructure requirements would be power generation, along with other civic infrastructure development, especially hydropower in the northeast.

Hydropower potential in the northeast is yet to be properly explored and developed.  The existing thermal and coal-based power projects are stranded due to lack of coal linkages and lack of adequate gas supplies.

Absence of adequate natural gas and local coal supply are really posing a very serious concern and hurdle to the energy security dream of our country.

If these two critical inputs are resolved, one could safely assume the relatively easy resolution/solution of this major hurdle of power generation in the country.

The failure to resolve this major critical input will pose a very high insurmountable hurdle to our economic planners, besides posing a very serious headwind to achieve these ambitious economic targets, especially in our northeast.

The northeastern region is already suffering due to a lack of industrial growth and poor economic infrastructure.

The Ministry of Power has been regularly talking about the development of approximately 50,000 MW of hydroelectric power in the northeast, especially in Arunachal Pradesh.

Incidentally, Arunachal Pradesh government has already signed 103 agreements with private independent power developers (IPPs) between 2003 and 2009. But, the current status of power projects is still not known.

However, it is imperative that both the governments — the state and union, must review these projects so that the construction or commissioning of the projects in a timely manner is achieved.

Failure on the part of the developer should be penalised by withdrawing the projects by following due process as per the law. The delays are already more than a decade.

Undue delay will lead to an upward revision of project cost, which will lead to revision of projects cost, and would ultimately mean a rise in power production cost. And as a result, there would be a revision of the power tariff.

And whenever there would be a higher cost of power production, the tariff would be automatically high, and poor consumers would need to bear the burden. It would also make the project unviable in some cases. These are few pitfalls one should guard.

However, if we look at the current level of power development in India, it is very much below the 5 lakh MW of power supply against the installed capacity of 10 lakh MW of power supply in the US and China.

Therefore, we will have to ramp up our capacity to at least 8 to 9 lakh MW. Unless we achieve this target, it will be extremely difficult to aim $ 5 trillion dollar-Indian Economy by 2024.

Unfortunately, all these hydro projects have failed to meet the deadlines. Even a few prestigious projects, including the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation’s Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Power Project, is ensnared in a dispute between the local Assamese people and the NHPC authorities.

The Lower Subansiri dispute is pending since 2012. And, when I visited the project site in January 2018, I saw the construction work had stopped, keeping a few hundred employees idle. This has resulted in drainage of the public exchequer for the last almost one decade.

One of the biggest challenges in implementing the hydroelectric power projects in the northeast is the lack of civic infrastructures like roads, communication and lack of public awareness about these projects.

And because of the lack of awareness, often there is huge public opposition to these projects because hydroelectric dams generally submerge huge areas of fertile agricultural lands. In the absence of any solid rehabilitation plan to accommodate affected families, it would be an uphill task to implement mega hydro projects in the current situation.

Hence it is desirable that the Arunachal Pradesh government and the Centre should jointly conduct proper public outreach programmes so that the community would be aware of the various related issues concerning the projects and positive impact on the local community.

In the absence of such activities, the projects are bound to be limited only on the drawing boards. The 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric project is a living example of a very costly lapse, which is being objected by the people living downstream in Assam.

Both NHPC and the Assam government should be in a position to explain to the citizens about the positive aspects of the Lower Subansiri project, and also India’s need for guaranteeing energy security. People fear of a mega-disaster as they have been devastated by recurring floods every year.

However, I must add that all the nine Indo-Bhutan hydroelectric projects cleared during 2009 and 2010 have been launched and more than half have been commissioned. The projects are generating assured power supply to India and in return, the Royal Bhutan government is earning huge revenue.

In fact, the Indo-Bhutan hydroelectric power projects have been win-win situations for the two neighbours.

One major project across the river Sankosh, which is adjacent to Assam and North Bengal border, is under execution stage. Once completed, it will generate huge power supply to the entire northeast, which is presently a power deficit region.

 

Augmentation of additional power supply to the eight power deficits states would boost economic and agricultural activities, which is presently dormant due to poor power supply position and lack of investment.

These projects also call for closer cooperation and co-ordinations between Bhutan and India, especially the downstream states like Assam. To ensure balanced development of India, the assured and reliable power supply to the consumers is a must.

Unless we achieve this objective, the goal to reach the $5 trillion-Indian-economy will continue to remain as a pipe dream.

HS Brahma

HS Brahma is former Chief Election Commissioner of India. He can be reached at hsbrahma1950@gmail.com

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