M G Devasahayam
M G DevasahayamShri M. G. Devasahayam is a former IAS and Managing Trustee, Citizens Alliance for Sustainable Living, Chennai
Recent articles byShri Devasahayam:

M G Devasahayam, retired from the Indian Administrative Service as a secretary to the government of India. Before becoming an IAS officer, he was in the Indian Army for five years, and had taken part in the 1965 war with Pakistan. As an IAS officer, he had also served as the member and chairman of the Haryana Electricity Board.

He is considered an expert in power utility management, demand side and need based energy management, transport utility management, etc with over 45 years experience in the Indian Army, government (as part of the IAS), public, corporate, private and NGO sectors.

In this interview with rediff.com‘s Shobha Warrier, he discusses the power sector in Tamil Nadu and  India.

Ten years ago, Tamil Nadu had surplus power and today, the state reels under severe power shortage. It was reported that there is a deficit of over four giga watts. What are the reasons for this turn around?

The concept of surplus and deficit is hazy and vague as demand analysis is not done properly, as it should be.

I would say there is no shortage of power here. It is because of lack of proper management that there is shortage. Any product, service or utility has to be managed.

The power sector has four dimensions to it; generation, transmission, distribution and the final stage which is not talked about at all is delivery; the last mile.

In generation and transmission, both central and state authorities are involved while in distribution, only the state is there. Delivery is the most important aspect where you come in touch with the consumer.

But everybody is talking only about generation as if nothing else matters. I will give you a small analogy. A body requires carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, etc. When you eat carbohydrates alone, you will be deficient in proteins, vitamins, etc and you will fall sick. That is what is happening to the power sector.

You mean there is something really wrong with distribution in Tamil Nadu?

Something is terribly wrong with the management of distribution and delivery.

Is there enough power generated?

What I mean is, they are only concentrating on generation and not managing the demand. They have to look into supply, delivery and demand but here, they are talking only about supply. That is why everything is in a mess.

Instead of looking at all the four aspects distinctly and putting in best management practices, they have bracketed transmission and distribution while these two are very different in  efficiency and loss level. When you talk about 30% transmission and Distribution (T&D) loss, T loss is only 3%. That is because it is high tension and hardly any loss takes place. So, even the basic conceptual management is not there.

In almost all the feeders, industrial load, commercial load, agricultural load and domestic load are clubbed together. The paying consumer and the non-paying consumer are in the same feeder. So, you are not able to manage the power supply.

Instead you should supply to the high paying consumer separately with value addition as per his requirement as he pays for it. For those who are not paying the tariff, you regulate it and supply according to his need. Why do you waste?

So, they must replace the demand based supply with need based supply. You have to analyse each sector and its need but nothing of that sort is happening here. I have done it manually 25 years ago when I was the chairman of the Haryana State Electricity Board.

One important thing Gujarat has done is, they have separate feeders for agriculture purposes.

Is it due to lack of knowledge that it is not happening?

I am sorry to say, it is corruption. Any scientific management will prevent corruption, and theft will come down.

The loss that the state suffers is reported to be around Rs.40,000 crore…

Most of it is due to corruption, theft and overloading of the transformers. Nobody wants to streamline the management as it will reduce corruption. Have you heard one line from the prime minister or the chief minister about streamlining the management? No.

Today, India has the potential of 25-30 percent generation saving through energy efficiency alone.

Also, nobody is talking about renewable energy. It is pathetically managed all over India. The kind of potential you have in this country for solar and wind farms is tremendous.

Tamil Nadu generates around 30 percent of its power from wind and the shortage now is said to be because wind failed this time…

Tamil Nadu has the highest potential as far as wind energy is concerned; 6,000 MW. When wind farms were established about 15 years ago, it was old technology bought from Scandinavian countries. Now, technology has vastly improved and you need much less acreage for producing X quantum of power.

The basic problem in the Kanyakumari-Tuticorin area where the wind farms are, though they have a 4000 MW capacity, only once in a while, TNEB gets more than 900-1000 MW. What they should have done was, they should have converted the area into a global energy park where they can bring in solar park as it is a bright area. They can have bio energy too. If you can combine all that, you can have a 24-hour power supply park which can give you assured supply of 5,000-6,000 MW of continuous power.

When you have such a huge potential for renewable energy, instead of planning such a thing, they have Koodankulam power plant in the next locality.

I would say nobody is looking at power generation holistically. Tamil Nadu has very high potential for solar power but it has to be a completely decentralised project as per the Electricity Act 2003.  You don’t need any grid for solar power. Every village can have stand alone solar projects. Once every village goes out of the grid, your power problem is solved.

Our governments have no concept of what energy is. All they want is what foreigners give them. The core reason is, kickbacks; massive kickbacks. What I tell you will not give you that kind of a kickbacks.

\Many nuclear experts say that nuclear energy is the only solution to the power shortage the country is facing now. What do you say to this?

Nuclear experts will say that because it is their bread and butter. In India, the nuclear establishment has been so secretive. God alone knows how much money they have spent. I will give you an example. The concept started in the late 1960s. After allocating certain amount of money, they announced that by 2002, they will have 42,000 MW of nuclear power capacity.

It is 2013 now. Do you know how much the total installed capacity is? It is less than 5,000 MW. It took them 42 years to bring in 5,000 MW. What future are they talking about?

I will not go into safety aspects as I am not a technical man. From the economic point of view, it is the most costly source of energy. There is a lot of hidden cost. I challenge all nuclear men for an open bid for nuclear, solar, hydel and renewable. I will tell you nuclear will be the highest in the bid. In an open market advocated by Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, nuclear power plants have no chance of standing.

My calculation says that power from Koodankulam will not be less than Rs.12.50 per unit but they are talking about Rs.2.50!

You were the first member of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission. What was your role in it?

I didn’t take it up. I refused. I nominated somebody else.

Why did you refuse?

It was the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government that nominated my name. I told them, I know the electricity sector but I need functional autonomy. Will the government give it to me? My style of functioning is, I need a clear time frame and a mandate, and then I deliver.  Elections were also approaching. There was no guarantee that I would be given autonomy when the new government comes to power. That was why I refused the post.

Do you think it was because of the short sightedness of political leaders that the state and the country suffer from terrible power shortage, or is it because of the lack of leaders with vision?

There is no leadership in India today. There are no leaders, only dealers are there.

As far as professional management of the government is concerned, it is done by the IAS. You can’t go on endlessly blaming the politicians, they are not managers. So, I would put 75 percent of the blame on the IAS cadre. They have not been able to assert themselves. They are not managing things in a professional manner. They cannot complain about political interference; these people must learn to assert.

The DMK was in power. Now the AIADMK is in power but the power situation has only worsened…

Yes, governments come and go. Bureaucrats are supposed to be there to manage professionally. The power minister and the chief minister have no business in announcing what the chairman, TNEB or any other board should be doing.

The criticism is that various governments have invited many industries to set up base here but nothing has been done to generate power to supply the growing needs of the economy. What do you say about this?

In a growing economy, industries will come. But are you not expected to manage the power situation? Management is a multi-dimensional discipline.

What I am saying is, don’t harp on generation, generation. That is only one dimension. That is why I said you have to have a holistic approach to manage the power situation.

Many experts say that more reforms are needed in the power sector. Do you agree?

There is no need for any reform. You make the already existing form work! The word reform is nonsense and it is a word used to fool people.

I would say the rot in the power sector all over India started in the 1990s after liberalisation.

Some people are of the opinion that if you privatise distribution, it will be managed professionally and will work better. Do you feel that way?

Privatising is not the answer. It will not work in a system that we have in Tamil Nadu. Number one, private entities will not take this up. They will take up utilities where there are high paying consumers. Who will take up your liabilities over Rs 56,000 crore? Even if someone takes up distribution, where is the power going to come from?

Tamil Nadu, in my view has the best potential as far as renewable energy is concerned. Every building should be given two years’ time to install solar panels. It is doable. I was in Germany recently. Even though their potential is much less than India, they have taken up solar power seriously but have completely de-centralised implementation. Every household has a solar panel and a metering system connected to the grid.  You draw power from the grid but get paid for what you feed to the grid, which is an incentive.

What kind of difference will there be if distribution and delivery are managed professionally?

In Tamil Nadu, if distribution and delivery are managed professionally, and if demand and efficiency parameters are strictly implemented, it will wipe out the deficit. And Tamil Nadu can become a surplus state if solar power is decentralised.

I have spoken openly on television that if the chief minister forms an expert committee with full autonomy, I am willing help set things right in six months without any additional generation. I have done this in Haryana in the mid-eighties; I can do it here too. Yes, in the process, a lot of people who are stealing electricity will get hurt.

But I am not hopeful as what you have here is the Ayya, Amma culture. The governance system here is not at all tuned to any kind of professionalism, optimisation or efficiency; they just blame each other and the Centre.

Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj