The PTI reports:

Striking a populist chord ahead of the Karnataka assembly polls, the BJP on Friday promised farmers of the state free power supply for irrigation pump sets and farm credit from nationalised banks at 4 per cent interest if voted to power. BJP state unit leader and former Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa announced that these assurances will be honoured within 24 hours of assuming office if the party came to power. Yeddyurappa said all those who own irrigation pump sets upto 10 Horse Power capacity would get free power supply.

The BJP announcement comes at a time when

the  Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) has reduced the power tariff by five to 25 paise a unit with effect from February 1. 2007-08 according to the Commission had been one of the best years with high availability of power from hydro stations. The commission has also reduced the agricultural tariff for metered irrigation pump sets.

A more mixed view of the power situation in Karnataka emerges from this story in The Hindu which appeared on 28th Dec.  The politics of Power in Karnataka is not unlike in Gujarat with farmers bodies resisting attempts to collect past dues.  Adding a new dimension to the politics of Power in Karnataka is the gradual entry of private firms. According to Rural Electrification Corporation Chairman and Managing Director Anil K. Lakhina

 There would be a complete change in the equations within the power sector in about 10 years when private companies were expected to generate about 60,000 MW of power. With this and the open access system of power trading, only those who could sell power at lower rates could survive as there would be a tough competition among power generators.

It is a retrograde development that the BJP’s Yeddyurappa would resort to power populism for farmers in the run up to the assembly elections when the power sector in Karnataka is poised for a transformation.

An interesting innovation especially in the area of irrigation is a scheme for replacing the 16 lakh irrigation pumpsets with energy efficient pumps. This is expected to translate into financial savings of Rs. 550 crore to Rs. 750 crore a year. At present, the pumpsets account for 27 per cent to 30 per cent of the State’s power consumption. This story in The Hindu has more statistics as well as remarks by Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited (KPTCL) Managing Director Bharatlal Meena on the scheme. Of particular interest is this statistic

Irrigation pumpsets constitute an important segment of revenue loss suffered by the electricity supply companies. The pumpsets have been prescribed a tariff of 54 paise per unit as against the average price of Rs. 3.80. But the revenue recovery from irrigation pumpsets is less than 10 per cent,

Mr. Yeddyurappa’s populism on what is already a heavy subsidy with a poor track record of recovery is in sharp contrast to Narendra Modi’s model in Gujarat which Yeddyurappa himself paid eulogies to, back in March of 2006.

Promising a revolution in the power sector, Deputy Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa said he would ensure that farmers received 24-hours power supply. He said he would soon lead a delegation to Gujarat to study power reforms undertaken in that State and implement the reforms to ensure at least 18 hours power supply was maintained in rural areas.

Offstumped Bottomline: The BJP’s yielding to power populism in Karanataka is a retrograde move. As the BJP prepares to build on the momentum from Narendra Modi’s victory in Gujarat it is disappointing to see the lessons from Gujarat discarded less than a month since the resounding win. If the BJP wants to get serious about winning in Karnataka it needs to project a strong leadership and a sound agenda. Yeddyurappa’s populism is hardly inspiring and could be a fatal mistake unless corrected.

Originally posted here

http://offstumped.nationalinterest.in/2008/01/14/karnataka-power-politics/#post-comments

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