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Lucknow, July 24 (IANS) A minister booed at a public meeting, a legislator being held hostage, power stations being attacked, electricity department men being beaten up - the power crisis in Uttar Pradesh, a state of 200 milllion people, has turned into a law and order scare for the Akhilesh Yadav government.
Though there was a brief breather in some parts of the state following monsoon showers last week, the state has been facing an unprecedented power crisis with unscheduled power cuts ranging between 10 and 12 hours in villages and around two-four hours in major cities. Paddy growers are waiting for irrigation to resume as the rains have failed them. But with no or erratic power supply, they are a miserable lot.
While the chief minister and his officials contend they are doing all they can to overcome a large 2,000 MW shortfall, the people say they will accept nothing short of improved supplies.
On Sunday a young man climbed up a mobile phone tower at the Charbagh railway station in Lucknow demanding that the government immediately address the power problems of his village of Mastipur in Kanshiramnagar district. After an eight-hour-long drama during which he often threatened to jump off the high tower, he repeatedly asserted that "we are humans and not animals and hence want proper light (electricity)."
On the same day, hundreds of irate people broke into the power sub-station at Lucknow University as the electricity, which had got cut off since early Sunday, "did not return even after 12 long and gruelling hours.
There have been many other power "riots" in different parts of the state, where angry villagers have stormed sub-stations and beaten up employees for either not restoring electricity or prolonging power cuts.
Violence has been reported from areas like Babuganj, Dubagga and Fatehganj too where officials have been chased and power employees beaten up. In Muzaffarnagar, violent clashes between villagers and powermen at the Gadhi power station has left over a dozen people injured. Women from the villages at Behat in Saharanpur blocked traffic on the Delhi-Yamunotri highway for several hours for poor power supplies.
Angered over outages and poor water supply, protesters clashed with police, vandalised property and torched vehicles last week in Amroha town, around 370 km from here. The trouble had begun in the Hasanpur area of the Jyotiba Phule Nagar district headquarters when irate residents blocked traffic and staged a sit-in on the road. Two trucks, a state roadways bus and a car belonging to a senior police officer were among the vehicles charred by the protesters, police said.
In a first, angry villagers in Aligarh held Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) legislator Trilokiram Diwakar hostage for the poor electricty supply in Gonda village. He was released after two hours of effort by the local police, but not before an assurance that he would take up the matter with senior power department officials.
Senior officials admit to the problem but point out that the grim situation has been passed on by the previous Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government.
The state faces a yawning shortfall of 2,000 MW. And, with a whopping Rs.10,000 crore in outstandings to suppliers, informed sources told IANS that the situation "does not look good and is going to stay like this, at least this summer".
The BSP government had in 2011 purchased power worth Rs.2,000 crore to handle the crisis between July and September. But the bills were not cleared, leading to an additional burden for the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd (UPPCL), an official said.
UPPCL chairman and managing director Avanish Awasthi told IANS that the corporation was working towards "setting things right" but conceded that it was a "long haul". Hundreds of transformes have broken down in many parts of the state and the chief minister himself recently hinted at a huge scam in the transformer supplies. Aluminium wiring was used instead of copper, Akhilesh Yadav said.
Ten major transformer manufacturing companies have been blacklisted for sub-standard supplies but several transforners continue to trip in many districts due to overloading and poor fabrication.
Other than this, the situation also looks grim as the state power corporation is yet to realise a whopping Rs.17,000 crore from defaulters. The UPPCL has set a target of Rs.1,250 crore to be realised from defaulters in 2012-13.
UPPCL director (Distribution) Jawahar Lal admits that there is a huge gap between demand and supply of power in Uttar Pradesh and says attempts were on to streamline power supply by acquiring extra power from grids and power exchanges. The peak demand in UP during the summer season is about 12,000 MW, while the supply is just around 10,000 MW. The state produces over 4,000 MW of power and the rest is procured from the Centre, which includes overdrawing, for which the state has already been issued a notice.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)