Power connections to farmers: Govt covers some ground, but miles to go
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Even as pending applications for agricultural electricity connections are piling up, the state government has failed to keep its promise of providing at least 1 lakh such connections in the financial year of 2012-13.
The power-surplus state has been able to provide only 63,971 new connections so far in the current financial year.
Gujarat has around 18,900 MW of installed power generation capacity and it sells surplus power to other states, but the state also has around 4.6 lakh pending applications seeking electricity connections in the farm sector.
In fact, there are farmers who have been waiting for 17 years now for power connections. In the financial year 2012-2013, the state government had set target of clearing 1 lakh pending applications in agriculture sector at a total cost of over Rs 1,700 crore.
So far, Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited (GUVNL), which has four subsidiaries namely Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Limited (PGVCL), Central Gujarat Vij Company Limited (CGVCL), Uttar Gujarat Vij Company Limited (UGVCL) and Daxin Gujarat Vij Company Limited (DGVCL), has provided 63,971 connections.
The maximum number of connections (48,435) was sanctioned by PGVCL, which also had the maximum number of pending applications (2.5 lakh). PGVCL covers eight districts in the Saurashtra-Kutch region, which despite being drought-prone is the cotton and groundnut hub for India.
Though agriculture in Gujarat has made remarkable progress in the last decade during which it posted double-digit growth, a truant monsoon last year left Saurashtra-Kutch high and dry.
"Agricultural electricity connections are one of our priorities and the department is committed to meeting all demands in the next two years. While over 63,000 connections were sanctioned these year, the efforts are on to strengthen resources and infrastructure," said a top official from the energy department.
But for farmers, it is still a long way to go. "With no perennial river in Saurashtra and dams hitting rock-bottom by December, farmers need electricity connections for pumping groundwater. Two lakh applications are still pending and the number is only going up," said Bhikha Patel, former chairman of Bhavnagar Agricultural Produce Market Corporation who has been running a campaign for years to get pending agricultural connections cleared. "Drastic steps are needed to clear the backlog once and for all," he said.
The massive backlog is a legacy of the past when the state faced huge power deficit. In 2000, its installed power generation capacity was only around 4000 MW.
However, the state saw a turnaround over the last decade, thanks to the entry of private players in the power sector. At present, installed thermal power capacity in Gujarat is around 18,962 MW, which includes coal, gas and diesel. Of this, state utilities control 5,481 MW while the private sector owns 10,648 MW. Central power utilities account for 2,833 MW.
According to Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Board, data industry accounts for close to 40 per cent of total electricity consumption, agriculture 22.65 per cent, domestic users 16 per cent and other users 10 per cent. Commercial users account for 7.52 per cent of consumption.