Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Commissioning of Myntdu Leshka: Is there reason to cheer?

The first unit 1 of the 3 x 42 MW, Myntdu Leshka H.E. Project (MLHEP) was at long last inaugurated, but the question remains: iis there any reason for the people of the state to be happy about the commissioning of the project? It took over three decades since its inception for MeECL to complete the project and at a huge cost. The project which was initially estimated to cost the public exchequer 363.08 crores has escalated to 1173.13 crores and exceeded more than 400 percent from the original estimation.
The MLHE Project which has the capacity to generate 126 MW of hydroelectric power was surveyed and investigated in the year 1975-76, but it took the then MeSEB another 23 years to prepare a detailed project report and the same was sent to the Central Electric Authority for clearance in the year 1998. The foundation stone of the plant was laid by the then President of the Country Dr. Abdul Kalam in the year 2002 and the deadline for completion of the project was set to be within 5 years. In spite of the President’s caution against any delay in constructing the project, the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Ltd (MeECL) took another 10 years to complete Unit-1 of the project.
What does the commissioning of the first unit mean to the citizens of the state? One would hope that with additional 42 MW of power supply at its disposal, the MeECL would have been able to provide uninterrupted power supply to its consumers (at least in Jaintia hills). One also dares to hope that now the people of Meghalaya are finally free of frequent power cuts and have 24 hours of power supply without any load shedding, but that is not happening yet. Perhaps the people of the state will have to wait for the completion of the next two units to be able to enjoy uninterrupted power supply, but the question is; when is that going to happen?
Patricia Mukhim, editor, The Shillong Times has in one of her very recent weekly columns rightly said that with regard to implementing the Myntdu Leshka hydroelectric project, the Meghalaya Electric Corporation (MeECL) has let the state and its people down. The people of the state were eager to see the commissioning of this project. So the question is, why has the Corporation not been able to complete the project on time? And what are the reasons behind the huge escalation in the cost of building the project? MeECL is one of the largest employers in the state of Meghalaya and the people of that State have high hopes in the Corporation. In Jaintia hills, at one point of time, several NGOs had even demanded that the government not only allot the implementation of the Leshka stage 2 to MeECL, but had even demanded that the proposed Umngot project be allotted to the Corporation. After the Corporation repeatedly failed to commission the project in time and was not able to control the expenditures in project implementation I doubt if the same NGOs will ever support the MeECL for any other projects in the state. As Mukhim has rightly pointed out, who will pay for the time loss in the delay of executing the project and can we afford a more than four hundred percent difference in the cost of implementing this project?
One expects that after the successful implementation of the Myntdu-Leshka project the Corporation with its experience in construction such projects will be able to even bid for projects outside Meghalaya. Obviously that is not going to happen. After the Myntdu-Leshka project, MeECL will be a Corporation with no confidence to ever undertake such projects in future. Even our own state government will think twice before allowing the Corporation to implement new projects. That is unless the state government is ready to waste another three decades of precious time and thousands of crores of precious tax payers’ money for another hydroelectric project. Now who is to be blamed for this mess? Someone, somewhere is responsible for this and punitive action should be initiated against those responsible.
The last time some writer wrote against the sloppy implementation of the Myntdu-Leshka project, there was hue and cry from the MeECL engineers’ fraternity. There was a letter in the Shillong Times which found fault with the writer Barnes Mawrie for a small error like the slip-up in the name of the river, to which the pious priest tendered an apology. But the MeECL engineers failed to answer the very important question that the people of the state and all the tax payers in the country have the right to know. What are the causes for the delay and the escalation of the cost of constructing the Myntdu-Leshka project? The engineers ought to be ashamed that they have not only let the state down, they have also let the Corporation down. Instead of defending their incompetent colleague, the MeECL engineers should demand for an inquiry on the sad state of affairs of the project. If somebody is benefiting from the embarrassing situation, it should not be at the cost of the entire engineer fraternity or the MeECL. The staff of the MeECL should demand that those who have failed the Corporation should be punished and the name of the corporation should not be tarnished.
After receiving several complaints from young, skilled, local tribal youths that cement companies mistreated many of them and young Khasi Pnar inadvertently were compelled to resign from their jobs, I decided to find it out for myself and see if the allegations are true. On a visit to the cement companies in Jaintia hills few years ago, I talked to one in the management of a certain company and asked him why the local tribals do not last more than few years when working in the cement companies? Pat came the reply that the locals here do not have ‘the industrial culture’. Now, I do not entirely agree with him that the cause of local youths being fired at will from their jobs is because they don’t have what it takes to work in an industrial setup, but there is some element of truth in what he said. It is the same with the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Ltd. The Corporation is a corporate body only in name. The whole setup is still that of a semi government body. The babudom prevails in the Corporation, the engineers still behave like brown sahibs. The Corporation should start inculcating the industrial or corporate culture in its employees from the top down to the last staff. If the Corporation wishes to see any change it should start thinking like a Corporation and its staff should act like those working in a company otherwise the fate of the Corporation itself is at stake. The Government too should complete the process of corporatising the erstwhile MeSEB. It is high time that the government allows the Corporation be led by professional business executives or technocrats than the general IAS officers who are already busy with heavy government responsibilities.
Yes its time for the MeECL to put its house in order and make sure that the remaining two units of the project are commissioned soon. The Corporation should not bask in the false glory of being able to at least commission the first unit of the project. The people of Meghalaya have waited too long for the completion of the entire project. They would not accept the blame on natural calamity as an excuse and ‘better late than never’ as the answer. MeECL is a Corporation and it should act like one. “Hire and fire,” should be the manner of its operation so that it does not turn into a sick, loss making unit unless infused with government funds.

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