It has become a routine of sorts for the people of Meghalaya to be victimised by unending bouts of power cuts, imposed by the state-owned Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL), due to its inability to pay its debts to various power generation and distribution companies. Reportedly riddled with rampant corruption, favouritism and bankruptcy in general, Meghalaya’s power sector owes incredible amounts of money and is unable to pay the same due to the state’s economy being in the drain. MeECL seems to be the epitome of a non-performing PSU, riddled with tremendous debt, making life miserable for ordinary citizens due to its lethargy and inability to reform itself.
What is worse is the fact that the state government too seems least interested to change the status quo in the state. Residents of Meghalaya are simply expected to bear the brunt of MeECL’s lethargy, corruption and malpractices, even as the government watches on meekly, without any drive to reform the state and its freefalling economy. On March 19, citizens of the state were informed that they will be deprived of power-supply for double-digit hours. In Shillong, the capital city – residents were told that they will be without electricity for 11 hours!
As of the moment of filing this report from Shillong, the power cut seems to have been discontinued, in line with Power Minister James Sangma informing two days ago that the dues to North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited (NEEPCO) had been cleared. The recent power regulation was brought in by NEEPCO, as it claimed that despite consultations at the highest level, the state power distribution company failed to clear outstanding dues. Those in the state, however, know that the respite will be short-lived.
The total dues, as of March 15, which the MePDCL has to clear to the NEEPCO, are Rs. 504.41 crore. The NEEPCO issued a notice for regulating power for six months or till such time the MePDCL liquidates its outstanding dues of more than 45 days, whichever is earlier.
Meghalaya is drawing 147.53 MW of power from the different sources of the NEEPCO. The bankrupt Meghalaya Power Department is availing a Rs 1,345.72-crore Aatmanirbhar Bharat loan from the Modi government to clear all its dues to power companies. The Union Power Ministry has also expressed concern over the inability of the MePDCL to clear dues even as a loan of Rs 1,345.72 crore has been sanctioned to it for the purpose.
Earlier, the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC) had regulated power supply to Meghalaya, once again triggering multiple hours of power cuts across the state. Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had then blamed the erstwhile Congress governments in the state for placing Meghalaya in the mess that it today is in. He blamed the erstwhile Congress-led government for signing a “one-sided agreement” with NTPC, entailing an annual payment of over Rs 130 crore to the company, despite not purchasing power from it in the last three years. The state government would have to pay Rs 3,300 crore approximately to the NTPC in the next 25 years, Sangma said in the state assembly.
“Because of this agreement in 2007, today we have a situation where the NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd) is literally arm twisting the government of Meghalaya and stopping us from buying power from other power generation companies,” the Chief Minister said. According to him, the agreement has also allowed NTPC to stop other companies from supplying power to the state.
At the core of the near-eternal blackouts in Meghalaya, reportedly, is an inept, inefficient and corrupt administration, unwilling to develop the state in line with the pace with which the country is moving forward. The Northeast as a whole is facing tremendous transformation, solely because the people in the region have begun making sound political choices. Yet, Meghalaya is still stuck in an age where administrative apathy continues to be the norm. It is surviving as a state with the blessings of the Centre, which has to bail the state out from time to time.
The power blackouts in the state are a reminder that citizens of this state, who identify themselves as tribals and rightful owners of the land, need to begin coughing up income taxes. Meghalaya must shed its insulatory practices, and open itself to industrialisation if it is to survive as a state. Sub-nationalism, corruption, fake bravado and tax non-compliance will only ruin the state further.