Hyderabad: In the grip of a severe power crisis, Andhra Pradesh has over the past three days seen a baby being delivered with the help of mobile phone flashlights during a blackout in a government hospital, industries running on only 50 per cent supply, hours-long power cuts in its interiors, and protests by opposition parties.
The YS Jagan Mohan Reddy-led state government has however said that the crisis is “temporary”.
Speaking at a press conference Saturday, state Energy Secretary B. Sreedhar said Andhra is facing a shortage of 50-55 million units (MU) of power amid a rise in demand, adding that the state is buying around 30 MU of power and the remaining 20 MU will be bridged with power from industries.
“The demand has suddenly increased. The state’s consumption is up to 240 million units (MU) and availability of power from different sources is 180 million units. Since the government wants to prioritise domestic and agriculture power needs, continuous processing industries which work 24 hours a day have been instructed to consume only half of the power they utilised in March,” he further said.
Restrictions on usage of power will continue till April 22, as according to government estimates, harvest season will begin from April 15, after which power usage in the agriculture sector will come down, the energy secretary explained.
“The power availability will be more that time and this is only a temporary phenomenon. At the most, the restrictions may continue till the month-end,” he further said.
According to Sreedhar, the state is facing a shortage of power despite all sources, including solar and wind, working at maximum capacity.
He said that the state is also facing a coal shortage: “Coal crisis began last October and we are yet to come out of it. This problem exists for all thermal stations in other states too. This issue is being monitored by the Government of India. Right now we are facing a hand-to-mouth situation as the coal stock we get is used up immediately. Last week, there was an interruption in power supply to residential areas.”
The energy secretary said that Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana are in a similar situation in terms of power shortage.
“South experiences summer before and agricultural work during this season is also high. Neighbouring southern states are also in a similar position and there are ‘unofficial’ power cuts there too. Gujarat has also declared a power holiday. AP wants to be transparent with power cuts and hence we announced it before,” he said.
Sreedhar said instructions have been issued that there should be no power cuts in hospitals, adding that while their priority is to ensure domestic customers don’t face outages, they may experience hour-long power cuts due to shortage.
‘Power holiday’ for industries
On Friday, the Jagan government announced a ‘power holiday’ for industries till 22 April, a first since the state was bifurcated in 2014. Industries running round the clock have been asked to use only 50 per cent of their power requirement and also declare one day’s holiday in addition to weekly holidays. The decision, according to the government’s notification, has been taken to ensure uninterrupted power supply to agriculture and domestic consumers.
Companies and shopping malls have also reportedly been asked to use only 50 per cent of their air conditioners and not use power for hoardings and signboards between 6 pm and 6 am.
“There will be a 20 MU saving because of the power restriction applied on industries. We are trying to purchase the remaining 30 MU in the exchange (Indian Energy Exchange) and bridge the deficit gap. So, there will be fewer power cuts in the domestic and agriculture sectors. Rural areas may experience one hour power cuts and urban areas, half an hour in the future,” Shreedhar had told a local news channel Friday.
A senior power official, who did not wish to be named, said: “Sudden demand due to rise in economic activity post lockdown and growing dependence on highly volatile solar and wind energy for power has led to this situation. State cannot even consider a direct purchase from private players because they have exorbitant prices.”
Blackouts in hospitals & interiors
On Wednesday night, when hours-long power outages were reported from across the state, doctors at the NTR Government Hospital in newly-formed Anakapalli district’s Narsipatanam delivered a baby with the help of candles and mobile phone flashlights during a blackout.
A video clip that purportedly showed a family member attempting to clean up the newborn in pitch darkness with the help of cell phone lights, went viral on social media.
In the video, a man who identified himself as the baby’s father, is heard saying: “It’s almost 12 am. I was asked to get candles and lights as my wife went into labour. How can I arrange them? There is no power in the entire hospital except the staff room and they’re telling us now that the generator is also not working. Not just my wife, several pregnant women inside are suffering.”
Ramesh Kishore, district coordinator of hospital services (DCHS) for Visakhapatnam, said that the hospital was running on a back-up generator for eight hours before it broke down.
“There was a power cut since Wednesday evening and the hospital was already running on a diesel generator before it broke down. The next morning, a team of technicians repaired it. I have also asked superintendents of all hospitals (in my jurisdiction) to get their generators checked. I have asked hospitals to keep emergency portable LED lights handy, as many as possible given the power outages,” Ramesh told ThePrint, adding that the NTR Government Hospital performs an average 300 deliveries a month.
Another video on social media showed a similar situation in a government-run hospital in Jangareddygudem, where people were seen fanning infants sleeping on hospital beds in the midst of a power cut. The attendants complained that the hospital did not have power for more than six hours, while the staff said that the generator was out of diesel.
“There are complaints from several hospitals in different districts about power outages. Hospital superintendents have been asked to get generators repaired first, funds are also being released for the same. Staff have also been asked to keep portable torch lights handy,” another DCHS told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Subba Rao, an employee in the construction sector and a resident of Prakasam district’s Kandukur town, told ThePrint that households there have experienced power cuts for as long as four hours, adding that his relatives in interior villages such as Naladalapur said they had even faced six-hour-long cuts.
‘State power utilities caught between devil & deep sea’
Earlier this month, retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer E.A.S Sarma, who was principal adviser in the National Planning Commission, had written an open letter to Union Coal Secretary A.K. Jain, in which he primarily blamed the coal shortage on the Centre’s policy on privatisation of coal development, thereby increasing dependence on private players.
“The state power utilities are caught between the devil and the deep sea, unable to procure domestic coal on the one hand, and unable to pay the astronomic prices quoted by Indian coal companies from their overseas coal mines. Some utilities unable to pay for such expensive imported coal are forced to resort to power cuts at great cost, affecting agriculture, small enterprises and manufacturing activity,’ read Sarma’s letter.
He also claimed that Andhra’s poor finances do not permit it to spend more on coal purchase.
As a result of the shortfalls in coal supplies, electricity distribution companies (discoms) were forced to import coal at exorbitant prices, which in turn escalated the price of electricity, the retired IAS officer claimed in his letter.
“As a result of insistence on the part of the Centre that discoms must meet a minimum proportion of their electricity needs from centralised solar power plants — largely operated by corporate business houses, the delivered cost of electricity from which is quite high — coupled with the directions issued by the Centre that discoms should also meet at least 10 per cent of their coal requirements from expensive imports, the distribution utilities have had no other alternative than to bear the huge cost burden and incur financial liabilities for no fault of theirs, at the same time burdening the electricity consumers to some extent (sic),” Sarma further wrote.
Former chief minister and head of the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Chandrababu Naidu blamed the Jagan-led government for the power crisis.
“What answer will the chief minister give to pregnant and lactating women suffering in government hospitals? There is a power crisis in the state and the government is spending about Rs 223 crore to felicitate its volunteers,” Naidu tweeted Thursday.
The previous day, TDP leaders had held a protest with lanterns in Narsipatnam against hike in energy tariffs in the state.
A group of farmers in West Godavari district’s Kamavarapukota on Friday protested at a local power substation against unannounced power cuts, saying that these were leading to crop failure. They called off their protest after local authorities assured at least 9 hours of uninterrupted supply.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)