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Calcutta 1981

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Jean Racine

Session 2. A. A Metropolis in Crisis

Addendum D. The Power Crisis in Calcutta

Nirmala Banerjee, Gautam Adhikari et Jean Racine

Texte intégral

1Amongst the various crisis which affect Calcutta, power shortage is certainly one of the most acute and worst, as it jeopardizes the very base of future economic development. Such a crisis, mentioned in several papers presented during the seminar, deserves special attention. We therefore asked Nirmala Banerjee, an expert in that field, to write a short note presenting an overall analysis of the problem.

2Repeated load-shedding is not simply an economic problem. It affects the daily life of everyone, it affects their work, their employment. It is therefore a topic taken up daily by the press. Everyday newspapers comment on the position of the previous day, and report on the various causes of the chronic power breakdown, which are not easy to find in official statement.

3Month after month, year after year, we have collected from the press a lot of precious information which is not necessarily available in official publications. One of the most informative analyses of the power crisis in West Bengal, written by Gautam Adhikari, appeared in the Madras daily, The Hindu, on March 28, 1979 under the title "Learning to live in the Dark." Most of this article is reproduced here, with the kind permission of The Hindu, as it has not lost its relevance. We have just updated some figures, and commented upon, in footnotes, what seemed to be interesting and significant points.

4This long addenda not only provides useful information on the power crisis, its causes and its manifestations, but also helps to understand, through the case-study of the power shortage, some of the basic reasons for Calcutta's present problems (J.R.).

The Power crisis in the Calcutta Metropolitan District

Nirmala Banerjee

5Even after a full decade and more, there appears to be no end in sight to the crisis in the electricity supply of the Calcutta Metropolitan District (CMD). The entire state of West Bengal is suffering from an acute shortage of electricity supply and for the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC), which is in charge of distributing power to the industrial and urban areas of the CMD, things are going from bad to worse. In the early seventies the gap between supply and demand of electricity at peak hours was usually about 20% of the peak demand. In recent months, this gap has gone up to as much as 40% of the estimated potential peak demand. Moreover even today there has evolved no System of power distribution which can minimize the disruption to city's life through sudden and prolonged power shortage.

6Shortfalls in power supply are not unusual in India today. Several regions have come up against the bottleneck inspite of the fast expansion of their electricity generating capacity and production because of their attempts to extend the facility to new uses such as irrigation as well as to new areas through rural électrification. In West Bengal, however, the pattern of electricity consumption has remained more or less unchanged in the last twenty-five years, with the industrial sector claiming over two-thirds of the total supply. The share of agriculture remains negligible. The CMD as a region still consumes over 65% of the total sales in the state. The state's record of rural electrification is extremely poor. West Bengal’s problem simply is that the meagre 33% addition to generating capacity since 1965-66 has been grossly inadequate to meet the increasing needs of even the traditional consumers, let alone new ones.

7The gestation period of power plants in India is about ten years now so that today's shortfalls are the result of failures in planning in the late 1960s. One reason the power supply of Calcutta was not planned better then was the nature of the demand here. Two-thirds or more of CESC sales are to large industry and demand for electricity of the local industry in the region has been highly susceptible to cyclical variations in the industrial climate. The engineering industry suffered a specially severe setback during the depression of late’60s. This created special problems for the CESC because during the depression, engineering units operated only for one shift timed to coincide with the system's peak hour. As a result, the peak demand did not fall as much as total sales and the System suffered from poor utilization of the existing capacity.

8The Calcutta demand pattern is in general rather unbalanced. In a study comparing it with that of Paris, it was pointed out that the Calcutta System has greater inbuilt problems of idle capacity since the daily consumption had a single sharp high peak of demand and relatively longer periods of low demand. Since the crisis began in 1970s, the authorities have tried to encourage users to shift their demand from peak to non-peak hours. However, they have not been very successful in this for two reasons. On the one hand, they cannot compel any particular group of users such as small scale industry to limit their demand for electricity to certain specific hours because they cannot guarantee an assured supply at any given hour. The CESC is dependent for the bulk of its supply on other producers, such as the State Electricity Board, the Durgapur projects and the Damodar Valley Corporation and their supply is very erratic. On the other hand, it is a peculiarity of Calcutta that users of all varieties, domestic, commercial and industrial —even large units— are all located in closely intermixed locations. The existing electrical grid makes it impossible to discriminate through use of differential tariffs or switching off of supply between different types of users at different hours of the day. This is an inherent result of the highly intermixed land use that Calcutta boasts of.

Fig. D.1. Electricity shortage in Calcutta: a case study of September 1981

Fig. D.2. The power plants near Calcutta in 1983

9In order to make the power industry in this region more efficient, therefore, what is needed is not only additional generating capacity. It also requires a better mix of industries in the region with added investment in industries which work multiple shifts and have a steady demand throughout the day. It would also pay to carry on a vigorous drive to relocate small industries away from residential and commercial areas into specially designed industrial estates, where they can be given special facilities for supply of electricity.

Learning to live in the dark: an analysis of the power situation in West Bengal

Gautam Adhikari1

  • 1 Gautam Adhikari, "Learning to Live in the Dark", The Hindu, March 28, 1979.

10An incredibly bad power situation is at the root of a lot of the misery that continues to plague the people of West Bengal today despite nearly two years of a generally efficient leftist administration.

11The biggest hindrance to an all-round raising of the quality of life in Bengal and to fresh investment for an economy desperately in need of a dialysis, is the power situation. It was deplorable when the Left Front came in and it is worse now. In the words of Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, "the crisis continues."

12The investment climate has no other conceivable reason of being suspect. The labour situation is still good, though not as excellent as last year, but still better than in most parts of industrial India. The law and order situation is demonstrably better than in many other parts of the country. Industrialists acknowledge in public that the present Government is a whole lot better than they apprehended as far as the law and order of the labour situation goes.

13Power, or rather the lack of it remains the stumbling block. A year or so ago industries and their associations used to dish out statistics on how the power situation was disrupting the process of production-man-hours lost, financial losses, wages paid to idle labour, damage to machines caused by sharp voltage fluctuations or sudden switch-offs and so on.

14A couple of days ago, when this correspondent approached one such association for figures, a spokesman replied: "Frankly, we don't compile those any more. We are tired of complaining." When industrialists tire of complaining one can very well imagine the extern of the crisis.

  • 2 "According to the latest estimates prepared by the WBSEB, North Bengal rivers have a potential of (...)

15The major power generating stations in the State belong to the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) and the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) which is a private company. The SEB power stations are located at Santaldih and Bandel and those of the CESC in and around Calcutta. West Bengal relies almost exclusively on thermal power because its hydel resources have not been adequately mobilized2.

  • 3 Coal delivered to power plants has frequently high ash content, sometimes as high as 40 per cent, (...)
  • 4 BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited), a Government of India Undertaking located in southern Ind (...)
  • 5 The power plants are one of the West Bengal industrial fields where the Centre of Indian Trade Uni (...)

16At Santaldih, till recently there were two 120 mw generating plants. In January a third unit was commissioned but this has so far proved a washout or in the accepted jargon, "It has not yet established and is therefore unable to take any commercial load." In fact, it broke down within two hours of running. Official excuses about the working of Santaldih revolve around the poor quality of coal3, the poor quality of the BHEL manufactured machines4 and the non-co-operation or downright sabotage by workers hostile to the present Government5. For one reason or other Santaldih remains a cynical byword in Calcutta for rank bad performance.

  • 6 Effectively, the situation has not improved since. See for instance the daily shortfall in Calcutt (...)

17The average shortfall in supply to the Calcutta System has been a staggering 120 mw daily for the past month and as a power Department spokesman realistically admitted lo newsmen, the situation would remain unchanged for some time6. No relieving features such as load-shedding schedules are observed in Calcutta as in other metropolitan centres because the crisis is beyond any scheduling.

Plate 11: A PRESS OUTLOOK AT THE POWER CRISI

Plate 11: A PRESS OUTLOOK AT THE POWER CRISI

In a few headlines, a review of some of the ailments afflicting the power plants of West Bengal: no discipline, no management, wrong planning, low productivity, repeated breakdowns and even, occasionally, thefts of public property and sabotage.

18Bandel has four units of 75 mw each. Given the time taken for overhauls or daily maintenance, the net expected power supply from two units at Santaldih and three at Bandel, on the government's own calculation, is 360 mw. The Durgapur Projects Limited (DPL), an undertaking of the State Government is supposed to supply about 80 mw to the State Electricity Board. DPL however has enormous Problems of its own. (...) Even assuming a 50 mw supply from DPL the total availability of power with the SEB is around 410 mw. Of this, about 200 mw is given to the CESC System for supply to Calcutta and its industrial belt. The CESC's own generation is steady at around 230 mw. The Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) is expected to supply 95 mw to CESC, but Mr. Basu, "to be realistic" does not expect more than 60 mw. (...)

19Therefore the total availability of power for Calcutta and its industrial belt, at the very best, is 490 mw whereas the peak demand is 560 mw per day. This is after the imposition of statutory rationing by which the demand for power has been reduced by 15 per cent. The minimum constant shortfall in the Calcutta System is consequently 70 mw disregarding accidents, breakdowns, coal shortages and whatever else that can cause shortfalls of double or more than double that magnitude.

  • 7 Those gas turbines imported from U.K. have been set up quickly, but have not solved the problem.

20There are of course some hopeful signs which indicate that even if the coming summer proves unbearable the summer of 1980 may be marginally better. This will not be through any breathtaking improvement in efficiency at the existing plants but by quick installation of additional capacity. Five gas turbine sets, each of 20 mw capacity, are now being installed—two near Calcutta and two at Haldia which will provide 80 mw to the Calcutta System. The fifth turbine will be installed in North Bengal near Siliguri. The turbines, it should be noted, will act as stand-by generators" at times of severe shortfalls7.

  • 8 More than once, Orissa managed to give power to West Bengal, but such a dependency is never reliab (...)

21There is some talk of power from surplus Orissa. The West Bengal and Orissa Governments are trying to work out an arrangement by which a direct link for such power supply can be established between the two States8.

22Long-term measures include the fourth unit at Santaldih of 120 mw by March 1980, the fifth unit at Bandel of 210 mw in late 1980, three units at Kolaghat each of 210 mw by December 1982, the sixth unit at Durgapur of 110 mw by March 1982 and four units of CESC at Titagarh, each of 60 mw, between 1982 and 1983. (Table D.l)

  • 9 Such delays naturally increase the costs: the first phase of Kolaghat project supposed to be met a (...)

23Το be sure, the crisis is overwhelmingly inherited. As Mr. Basu pointed out: "All these units, with the exception of the Titagarh unit, ought to have been commissioned much before the dates mentioned if our predecessors had gone about their business with sincerity. When we carne into office we found that almost all the projects were badly behind schedule. To give one example, the Kolaghat project was sanctioned in 1973 and it ought to have been commissioned by 1977. Practically nothing was done there and we had to make a beginning virtually from the scratch9

24However, the Left Front cannot boast of a totally clean state either. The third Santaldih unit ought to have been commissioned by June 1978, but it is still not operating commercially as pointed out earlier, although it was officially commissioned in January 1979. Similarly the fifth unit at Bandel ought to have been commissioned by December 1979 but this has been postponed to late 1980.

  • 9 "Power is an a mess, because it is everybody's and, therefore, nobody's baby. Because power is mon (...)

25A happy feature is that the Chief Minister at least realizes the human deficiencies. As he said recently "there is lack of co-ordination among various departments and this is visible at all levels from top to bottom. In important projects it is difficult to identify any single individual as having the overall responsibility for their proper execution9.

  • 10 On the Ganges, by the Farakka dam, the proposed power plant is planned with a capacity of 630 mw. (...)
  • 11 Here again arises the constant problem of Centre-States relationship. The creation of any power pl (...)

26There were problems from the Government of India also when it turned down the 630 mw Kolaghat extension project on the ground that with the Farakka and Chukha projects coming up, the eastern region would have surplus of power10. Mr. Basu fought it out with the Union Government. He emphasized that even with the Farakka and Chukha projects there would be a shortage of power in West Bengal in the Seventh Plan, if the projects listed by the State Government were not included in the Sixth Plan11.

Table D.2: The relative degradation of the power-installed capacity in Eastern India

Table D.2: The relative degradation of the power-installed capacity in Eastern India

Source: This Table has been elaborated from figures provided by "Less for the East," an editorial of The Statesman, May 13, 1982 (J.R.).

  • 12 A recent controversy arose about that point: a Central Government Project very badly managed for y (...)

27Moreover, he added, the DVC could no longer be relied upon12. Fortunately the Union Energy Minister has now accepted the justification for the Kolaghat project and the Central Electricity Authority will have a further look into it.

  • 13 According to a 1979 estimate by WBSEB, West Bengal's peak demand out side the Damodar Valley area (...)

28No amount of additional installations, however, can keep pace with the anticipated rise in demand let alone the demand that would be generated by new Investments in industry, if the power plants and supply System are not better managed13 This management has now to be done with a professionalism as never seen before in this state if we are to breath slightly easier in the coming days.

29Leaving industry aside, the quality of life of the average city-dweller has been eroded radically. Tempers are frayed, tensions reach the breaking point and life in West Bengal in general and overcrowded Calcutta in particular becomes increasingly degrading. Of course, rare ingenuity is being developed by Calcuttans who are every day learning to live in the dark as their forefathers did a hundred years or more ago.

30They manage to do their essential activities with one of their senses, the faculty of sight, seriously impaired for hours every evening: reading by lantern, eating by candlelight, whiling away the hours of darkness in serious contemplation and even performing adroitly in toilets relying solely on their senses of touch and sound.

31All this makes the Calcuttan potentially more efficient perhaps but real efficiency suffers disastrously. As it is, Government and public sector organizations, including banks, observe unofficial pen-down strikes whenever the light go out.

Notes de fin

1 Gautam Adhikari, "Learning to Live in the Dark", The Hindu, March 28, 1979.

2 "According to the latest estimates prepared by the WBSEB, North Bengal rivers have a potential of 1925 mw of hydel power, of which just 30, 60 mw have been exploited and another 60 mw is being installed," The Business Standard, 5 June 1978.

3 Coal delivered to power plants has frequently high ash content, sometimes as high as 40 per cent, a percentage very harmful to the machinery.

4 BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited), a Government of India Undertaking located in southern India, was in charge of constructing the key equipment for Santaldih Units 3 and 4. BHEL decided to build up more sophisticated and automated equipment than that brought from the Soviet Union for Units 1 and 2.

5 The power plants are one of the West Bengal industrial fields where the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (pro-CPI-M) is not very powerful. In the plethora of Unions, two are largely engaged in a political struggle against the present Marxist government: the Congress-led Indian National Trade Union Congress, extremely well represented because the former Congress government in West Bengal had recruited no less than 12,000 workers in the Electricity Board, banking upon their votes in future elections, and the West Bengal State Electricity Board Workers Union, led by P. Das Gupta, a former pro-Naxalite, expelled from the CPI-M in 1967.

6 Effectively, the situation has not improved since. See for instance the daily shortfall in Calcutta in September 1961 (fig. D. 1).

7 Those gas turbines imported from U.K. have been set up quickly, but have not solved the problem.

8 More than once, Orissa managed to give power to West Bengal, but such a dependency is never reliable. Orissa has a number of hydel power stations which cannot, in the dry season, produce any surplus: it was the case, for instance, in May 1981. Also the power surplus from Orissa is bound to decline as this State becomes industrialized. During acute shortage, West Bengal sometimes ask for surplus from far-off States. On 24th April 1979 for instance, West Bengal urgently requested power from Andhra Pradesh, while the shortfall in South Bengal was a record 319 mw. But no eastern or central state has permanent surplus: like Orissa, Andhra Pradesh could not help in May 1981 when the shortfall in Calcutta, on the 25th-27th, was around 150 mw.

9 Such delays naturally increase the costs: the first phase of Kolaghat project supposed to be met at the expenditure of Rs. 115 crores, went up to the provisional figure of Rs. 282 crores in 1982. We must add to that the cost of already bought equipment not properly stored during these years of delay, and damaged to various extent.
Table D.1: Delays in Implementation of power plants in West Bengal. A few examples

Power Plant

Santaldih

Bandel

Titagarh

Kolaghat

Institution in charge

WBSEB

WBSEB

CESC

WBSEB

Units concerned

no4

no5

nol to 4

nol to 3

Proposed generating capacity MW

120 MW

210 MW

4 x 60 = 240 MW

3 x 210 = 630 MW

Date of sanction of the project

1970-1971

1972

1975

1973

Proposed date of commissioning

March 1980

Dec. 1979, then Dec. 1980 then Dec. 1982

1982-1983

1977 then Dec. 1982

Position in early 1983

completed

1st unit next summer

no unit completed

9 "Power is an a mess, because it is everybody's and, therefore, nobody's baby. Because power is money, everybody has a finger in it. There are, apart from the much maligned State Electricity Boards, Power Departments of State Governments, their Irrigation Departments in charge of hydro-electric projects, Project Control Boards (for inter-state projects), Regional Electricity Boards, Central Electricity Authority, the Union Ministries of Energy and Irrigation, Atomic Energy Commission, Ministry of Petroleum and Chemicals and the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, National Thermal Power Corporation, Rural Electrification Corporation, Planning Commission, Ministry of Industry —the list is endless. Any-one these organizations can bring the parade to a halt. This is only as far as planning is concerned. Where it comes to operations, there is the familiar merry-go-round of complaints and buck-passing; the Railways blaming Coal India, Coal India blaming Electricty Board and Electricity Board blaming Railways. With over a score of organizations at each other's throat, it is a minor miracle that there is any power at all at the end of the cable." Jay Dubashi and Sunil Sethi, "An Area of Darkness", India Today, May 1-15, 1979.

10 On the Ganges, by the Farakka dam, the proposed power plant is planned with a capacity of 630 mw. In Chukha, in North Bengal, the proposed thermal plan will have a capacity of 240 mw. The Central Electricity Authority seems now to reconsider more favourably the 630 mw Kolaghat extension project. But all those projects should ideally be completed by 1984-85 if they are to bring an end to the power cirsis. That is to say that Calcutta and West Bengal as a whole will not solve their energy problem in the near future. Moreover, experts from the State Electricity Board forecast an almost unavoidable increasing shortfall, as it seems most improbable to match, in the eighties, an increasing demand.

11 Here again arises the constant problem of Centre-States relationship. The creation of any power plant must first be approved by the Central Electricity Authority. The financing of the projects relies largely on the Centre, which in many instances has delayed the sanction of projects proposed by West Bengal, turned a few of them down, or more than once revised them and reduced their scale. For example: the West Bengal Government proposed, in 1963, a project of 4 units of 250 mw each for Santaldih. The Government of India sanctioned two units of 120 mw each only in 1966. Sanction for two other 120 mw units came in 1970. The first unit was commissioned in 1974, the second in 1975, the third in 1978, the fourth in 1983. From the first project to the completion of the revised project half the size of the original one, it took twenty years (see R.N. Ganguly: "Planning for Power, Retrospect and Prospect." The Statesman, August 14, 1979). But we must add that Santaldih is probably the worst planned, worst erected, and worst managed power plant in West Bengal, whose successive State governments share with the Centre responsibility for the failure.
On the large scale of eastern India, Table D.2 will speak for itself on the acute relative decline of Calcutta hinterland as far as power —a key ingredient of development— is concerned. As a result the per capita energy consumption in West Bengal, which was at its highest thirty years ago, has fallen below the national average with around 160 Kwts in 1978-79, against an all-India figure of 176 Kwts.

12 A recent controversy arose about that point: a Central Government Project very badly managed for years, the Damodar Valley Corporation started in 1980, under the leadership of an efficient new Chairman-cum-managing director, a much commented recovery, with generation soaring, from 350-400 mw to a peak of 800 mw. When generation was poor and problematic, the DVC could not often meet its obligation to transfer 70 mw to Calcutta. Because of its spectacular progress, the DVC was, since 1981, in a better position to help Calcutta... if politics did not mingle with energy. Strangely enough, the Central Government gave the DVC an order to reassess its distribution patterns, and reduce the supply to Calcutta in April 1982... just before the State election: "It is hardly surprising that Mr. Jyoti Basu (Chief Minister of West Bengal) should claim to detect a sinister political motive in the Centre’s intriguing directive to the Damodar Valley Corporation to restrict power supply to Calcutta" commented The Statesman in an editorial entitled "Politics of Power” (April 18, 1982) (J.R.).

13 According to a 1979 estimate by WBSEB, West Bengal's peak demand out side the Damodar Valley area (covered by the Damodar Valley Corporation) will evolve as follows:
Table DJ: The dull prospect of the energy crisis in West Bengal for 1979-1989

Demand MW

Availability MW

Shortfall MW

1978-79

1419

1040

370

1983-84

2213

1382

831

1984-85

2407

1438

969

1985-86

2620

1431

1189

1986-87

2850

1432

1418

1987-88

3101

1420

1681

1988-89

3374

1407

2866


Source: R.N. Ganguly, Additional Chief Engineer, Planning and Engineering, West Bengal State Electricity Board. The Statesman, 14 August 1979 (J.R.)..

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. D.1. Electricity shortage in Calcutta: a case study of September 1981
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5284/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 155k
Légende Fig. D.2. The power plants near Calcutta in 1983
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5284/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 149k
Titre Plate 11: A PRESS OUTLOOK AT THE POWER CRISI
Légende In a few headlines, a review of some of the ailments afflicting the power plants of West Bengal: no discipline, no management, wrong planning, low productivity, repeated breakdowns and even, occasionally, thefts of public property and sabotage.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5284/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 487k
Titre Table D.2: The relative degradation of the power-installed capacity in Eastern India
Légende Source: This Table has been elaborated from figures provided by "Less for the East," an editorial of The Statesman, May 13, 1982 (J.R.).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5284/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 366k

Auteurs

Born in 1946 in Northern France, carne in India for the first time in 1968. He spent most of the last fifteen years in India and stayed long in the South and in Calcutta, where he headed the French Cultural Centre from 1977 to 1982.
Since 1982, he is Fellow in Geography, French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), based at the Centre for Studies in Tropical Geography, Bordeaux. Currently, he is with French Institute of Pondicherry.
A Ph.D from the Sorbonne University, he published his first book Tradition and Modernity in South India: Two Rural Studies in Tamil Nadu (in French) in 1976. He is presently carrying on a long-term research on "Territory, Civilization and Development in South India", focussed on a Tamil district, and heads an Indo-French research project entitled "To Migrate or to Stay? A Study in Rural Change, Mobility and Retention of Village Population in India. The case of South Karnataka".

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1990

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