Punjab is reeling under an unprecedented power shortage amid an intense heatwave. There have been long cuts in electricity supply across the state since the last couple of days.
Here is why and how the crisis unfolded and what the government is doing about it:
How bad is the crisis?
Many areas in Mohali faced cuts of over 14 hours since the last 24 hours, Patiala and Bhatinda had power outages of up to seven hours and parts of Kapurthala, Tarn Taran, Ferozepur, Muktsar and Ludhiana had between six and 12 hours of cuts.
According to a report by Times of India, for over a week, the electricity supply to the state’s rural areas has been restricted and farmers are among the worst hit during the paddy transplantation season.
Farmers at this time need uninterrupted electricity to run pumps to supply water for pudding during paddy transplantation.
Also, temperatures have been soaring with high humidity as monsoon have reportedly been delayed.
What has been the state’s response?
The Punjab government has restricted electricity to industry and changed working hours in government offices to 8 am to 2 pm.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Thursday urged all government offices to make judicious use of electricity, the chief minister said the situation was dire as the peak demand in Punjab had touched 14,500 MW.
Has it triggered public unrest?
In Jalandhar, domestic consumers chose to walk out of their homes past midnight to lodge a protest outside the PSPCL complaint office till 2 am. However, their plan to gherao the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) complaint office failed as no one was present to address their grievance.
Residents have also taken to social media to express their anguish against the power cuts.
Shiromani Akali Dal also held protests at various places in the state. Mocking the long power cuts, SAD workers, led by former minister Daljit Singh Cheema, distributed hand fans in Ropar.
In Zirakpur, local MLA NK Sharma led a protest by the residents against the power cuts at Baltana.
Meanwhile, hundreds of farmers blocked the National Highway at Phagwara’s Sugar Mill Chowk for four hours on Wednesday. Farmers alleged that against the requirement of 8-hour uninterrupted power supply, they have been getting just 4-5 hours of supply since paddy sowing started.
A separate group of farmers also gheraoed the Daulatpur power office near Phagwara.
What caused this sudden crisis?
A PSPLC spokesman said the shortage was due to prolonged dry spells (delayed monsoon), paddy transplantation and failure of one unit of the Talwandi Sabo thermal power plant in Bathinda district.
According to PSPCL data, thermal plants of Punjab have the capacity to generate 6,840 MW power, but are generating only 5,640 MW. Moreover, there are outages in Ropar thermal plant (210MW) and Talwandi Sabo thermal plant (990 MW).
The latter is a private thermal plant.
Punjab has already closed the Bathinda thermal plant, hence is largely dependent on private plants. With Talwandi Sabo thermal plant generating only 50 per cent of its capacity, PSPCL is now only dependent on rains as the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) is also facing water shortage for hydel power generation.
Were authorities warned in advance?
According to a report by The Tribune, the PSEB Engineers’ Association has criticised the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) management and the state government for going against the interest of the common man.
Engineers said they had been informing the PSPCL and government of the looming crisis and that the wrong decisions being taken by the power authority would lead to unreliable supply and higher electricity tariffs, but to no avail.
“It is ironic that healthy thermal units are not being revived even when the state is in the middle of a major power crisis,” said Jasvir Singh Dhiman, president of the association.