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Meghalaya Power Minister pooh-poohs UDP’s demand for his ouster

The six-party MDA government is on shaky grounds because the UDP is firm on its demand to oust Sangma from the Power department.

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Shillong: Power Minister James Sangma on Friday termed the demand of the United Democratic Party (UDP), a key ally in the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) Government, to relieve the Power portfolio from him as “misdirected”.

The UDP had written to Chief Minister Conrad Sangma urging him to relieve James from the Power department for the “ongoing serious financial bankruptcy and other financial and administrative mismanagement” in the power department, plunging the state into an unprecedented power shutdown.

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The six-party MDA government is on shaky grounds because the UDP is firm on its demand to oust Sangma from the Power department.

If the demand is officially endorsed then it would be the second time Sangma would be shunted out of a department. He was stripped of his Home (police) portfolio due to pressure from alliance partners, again because of mismanagement.

“Their (UDP) concerns are genuine. I share their concern (on load shedding)… appreciate they are bringing it out and speaking about it, but their approach is misdirected. It should be directed against those people who have accumulated these bills (power department) over the years,” Sangma told reporters.

The load shedding has caused problems for the students, especially those preparing for their Board examinations. The UDP has said that the load shedding has disturbed normal life in the State.

Blaming the previous Governments, particularly the Congress for the financial debt of MeECL, the Power Minister said, “ … Due to the negligence of the previous government, loss of power which has resulted due to weak or broken wiring is about 32 percent – 34 percent. This is the highest in the country which is really unfortunate.”

He said the previous governments were legally supposed to make payments to the tune of Rs. 840 crore for the retirement benefits of employees who diligently worked all their lives for MeECL. “But despite assurances of payment made by the Congress in 2010 and then by the current leader of opposition, Mukul Sangma, in 2014, they failed to do so. The payment is currently being made by our government to such former employees, whose only source of livelihood depends on the pensions they receive,” he said.

“We need to direct the financial mess to those who have signed these faulty power purchase agreements which has put us in this kind of a situation. We have to direct those who promised Rs. 844 crore and failed to keep that commitment resulting in the fact that MeECL has to spend Rs. 712 crore from their own pocket to cater to the terminal benefits to the employees,” he added.

He said the MDA government has decided to cancel the various power projects signed by the earlier governments which have not taken off. Sangma also informed that the government has decided to go for Expression of Interests (EoIs) for these projects.

“For me as a Power Minister, this problem that has been created by previous governments is really frustrating because ultimately no power distribution company can sustainably function in the long-term with such massive problems.” Sangma asserted.

Moreover, he said that Meghalaya Government was fortunate to receive the Rs. 893 crore grant from ADB for introducing smart meters, improving broken wiring and setting up more efficient distribution systems.

“Through this grant, from an average loss of power of 32 percent – 34 percent, we plan to reduce it to 12 percent,” the Power Minister said.

Sangma also referred to “faulty” agreements signed by the governments of the past, which have all resulted in the present financial crisis in the MeECL and subsequent load shedding.

The Power Minister said the recent load shedding has been necessitated because of the power regulation by power Central generating companies as dues have accumulated from the “past 10 to 11 years.”

Even then, he said, the load shedding period is comparatively lower than those of the past and the present government is “trying to do everything necessary” so that students and the general public don’t face inconveniences.

Sangma however added that the solution to the problems can’t be found in a quick-fix manner and various options are being looked at so that the crisis could be managed.

Clearing the air on the issue of monetizing the assets of the financial-starved MeECL, the Power Minister said, “The MeECL has no choice but to monetize their assets. But this does not mean selling off the assets of the MeECL.

Monetising can be a way of leasing out the land assets of the MeECL. The ownership will remain with the MeECL and it will end encroachment.”

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