As Punjab stares at severe power outages, farm unions’ meet on relaxing ‘rail roko’ inconclusive

Power outages surged in Punjab, especially in rural areas, with the ongoing rail blockade severely impacting coal supply for thermal power plants even as a meeting of 30 farmer unions called to decide on relaxing the rail roko protest at 33 sites in state remained inconclusive on Saturday.

Farmer leaders said that a decision could not be taken as all unions could not attend the meeting in Barnala. The next meeting on the issue is now scheduled on October 15.

“All 30 farmer union heads were not present in the meeting held at Barnala and hence the decision on CM’s appeal on relaxing ‘rail roko’ could not be taken. Next meeting of all farmer unions has been scheduled for October 15. This point will now be taken up in that meeting only,” said Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan).

Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal appealed to the farmer outfits, which have been protesting against the three new contentious agriculture laws, to ease their agitation to allow movement of goods trains. “If (goods) train services do not resume, I fear there can be power cuts and maybe total power shutdown in the state,” Manpreet told reporters.

With no movement of goods trains because of the ‘rail-roko’ agitation for an indefinite period, the coal supply in thermal power plants has reached a critical stage. “We are now left with two days of coal,” Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) chairperson and managing director Venuprasad said.

According to officials, Lehra Mohabbat, Ropar thermal and GVK thermal power plants are already shut. Two other power plants — Talwandi Sabo and Nabha — are running at half of their total power generation capacity.

Some of the areas in the state have already been facing power cuts due to less electricity generation, an issue that was highlighted by BKU (Ugrahan) state President Jhanda Singh Jethuke.

“PSPCL) has reduced the supply to agriculture sector from 8 hours to 2 hours per day. For our PUSA-44 variety of paddy, irrigation is still needed. But we are not getting proper power supply. PSPCL is making false claims of limited coal supplies. How were they running the thermal plants during lockdown period? They are just blaming farmers while they have enough coal stocks. They were aware of rail roko since mid-September, hence they could have made some advance arrangements. This explanation is hard to believe. If water supply is not improved, the yield of PUSA-44 will be badly hit.”

He pointed out that prices diammonium phosphate (DAP) had also been increased by pesticide sellers by Rs 100-150 per 50 kg bag.

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“As of now, farmers who are sowing potatoes need DAP and the rest will need it after 20-25 days to sow wheat. It is not right to say that fertilisers are in short supply in Punjab because of rail roko .There is enough stock in market and government must ensure that farmer gets it at genuine rate.”

Kamal Goyal, a pesticide dealer in Mansa, said,”DAP bags of 50 kg were priced at Rs 1,250 last year. In May, this year prices had come down to 1,050 per 50 kg and now once again they are at Rs 1,200. Hence, we cannot call it an increase in price. This fluctuation keeps happening depending upon crude oil prices as it is a petroleum byproduct. As of now, we are having sufficient supplies with us, we need more supplies to cater to farmers after 20 days when wheat sowing will start.”

Meanwhile, speaking about reduced power supply to agriculture sector, DPS Grewal, Director (Distribution), PSPCL, said,”Our daily demand is 8000 MW as of now and we are purchasing 6,000 MW from national grid and the rest is generated by private thermals, hydels of Punjab. Thermal plants at Talwandi Sabo, Nabha and Goindwal Sahib are running at reduced capacity to save coal supplies. Talwandi Sabo plant has supplies for a week, Nabha has coal supplies of 3-4 days while Goindwal Sahib thermal plant has coal supplies of half a day or a day. So, we have kept coal stocks as a back-up plan in case we get reduced share from the national grid due to any emergency. Hence, supply to some part in the agriculture sector has been reduced. To potato farmers, we are giving 4-5 hours daily power supply. We are continuously monitoring the system and trying our best to run the system in a seamless manner. As goods trains are not moving, hence we are having constraints.”

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