24.11.20

Rajasthan: Historic low tariffs for solar power

The solar power sector in India witnessed a new history as tariffs in an auction conducted by Solar Energy Corporation of India’s for 1070 megawatt projects in Rajasthan attracted lowest ever rates of Rs.2 per unit.

The tariff is over 15% lower than the previous lowest rate of Rs.2.36 discovered in another auction SECI for 2000MW in June this year.

Prior to that, solar power developer ACME had won a project in Rajasthan offering Rs.2.44 per unit.

The historic low tariff was quoted by Aljomaiah Energy and Water Company and Green Infra Wind Energy Ltd, a subsidiary of Sembcorp for 200 MW and 400 MW of solar projects, respectively, while central PSU NTPC quoted the second-lowest rate of Rs.2.01 for 600 MW of projects.

Explaining the possible reasons for the lowest tariff, Sunil Bansal, general secretary of Rajasthan Solar Association, said, "Solar module prices have come down by 10-12% in the past few months. Secondly, solar technology is becoming more and more efficient in raising productivity. These are the two main drivers responsible for record lower tariffs. Besides, we are of late witnessing interest of foreign companies in Indian solar sector. That could be another reason."

The winning bidders will sign power purchase agreements with Rajasthan and the sell the power to discoms. The discoms have annual targets to get certain portion of its lower requirement from renewable energy. The 1070MW project will meet the discoms' renewable purchase obligations.

Jammu & Kashmir: Roshni land scam

Over a month after the J&K HC nullified the Roshni Act of 2001, the J&K administration has begun publishing the list of beneficiaries on its website — including top politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen etc — who influenced illegal vesting of state lands to regularise the plots they had encroached upon or illegally occupied.

The first set of beneficiaries of the Rs.25,000 crore Roshni scam in Srinagar “exposed” by the J&K administration include former finance minister and ex-PDP leader Haseeb Drabu and three of his family members (each got one kanal of land), Congress leader and owner of Broadway Hotel in Srinagar K K Amla (over 11 kanal went to Amla and around one canal each to his three family members), retired IAS officer Mohd Shafi Pandit and his wife, and hotelier Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya and his son.

Given that the beneficiaries of land allocation under Roshni Act include the rich and famous of J&K, implementation of the HC order will mark arguably the biggest drive to reclaim prize public real estate from the elite. A source indicated that names of some political heavyweights may soon be uploaded as part of the list of beneficiaries.

In Jammu, the Roshni Act cases cited on the J&K administration website are that of ex-legislator Satpal Lakhotra and his three relatives, and government employees and businessmen Naru Ram, Beli Ram, Shallo Ram, Ram Dass and Ram Lal. Those who were vested ownership of encroached state land in Jammu other than under Roshni Act (physically encroached but not shown in revenue records) are National Conference leader Syed Akhoon and Haroon Choudhary and ex-minister from NC Sujjad Kichloo, J&K Bank ex-chairman M Y Khan and ex-NC leader Aslam Goni.

A 2014 CAG report found that only Rs.76 crore had been realised from transfer of encroached land between 2007 and 2013, as against the target of Rs.25,000 crore.

Tarun Gogoi : Assam’s longest-serving chief minister, dies at 84


 “I am a Congressman and will be one till my last breath,” Tarun Gogoi, Assam’s former chief minister and arguably one of the most popular, had once said. He remained true to his words till the very end.

The 84-year old veteran Congressman, who died from post-Covid complications on Monday, was a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist.

He strode like a colossus in the political arena, leading Assam from the front with his sharp intellect and a blunt demeanour.

The veteran Congress leader was first admitted to the hospital on August 26 after testing positive for Covid-19 and was discharged for a brief period before being admitted again on November 2.

His condition deteriorated on November 21, following multi-organ failure and was put on invasive ventilation.

Gogoi was given dialysis on Sunday. His condition deteriorated further over the past few hours and the hospital where he was admitted said he was “very, very critical”. He breathed his last at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital at 5.34 pm, state Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

He was 84 and is survived by wife Dolly, daughter Chandrima and son Gaurav, a Lok Sabha member.

On assuming the reins of Assam for the first time in 2001, the Congress leader had said he was confident of holding office for five years but never imagined his popularity will ensure he occupied the position for three successive terms.

Credited with bringing the various militant outfits, including the dreaded ULFA, to the negotiation table, pulling out Assam from the brink of bankruptcy and putting it back on the track of development, Gogoi’s three terms in office were marked by many highs and a few lows.

During his third stint, however, he had to face dissidence within the party, which finally resulted in the ouster of the Congress from power in the 2016 assembly elections.

The rebellion was led by his former blue-eyed protege and powerful politician Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was said to harbour chief ministerial ambitions, but the veteran Congress leader steered past all stumbling blocks and continued to hold office by effecting a reshuffle in the ministry.

Shortly thereafter, Sarma resigned from the party and the assembly, and joined the BJP, taking along nine MLAs who were close to him. This dealt a body blow to both Gogoi and the Assam Congress.

Undaunted, the six-time MP stood tall as an opposition leader, raising his voice against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and issues related to the implementation of National Register of Citizens an exercise that left a large number of people of Assam, particularly Muslims, traumatised.

Days before he was diagnosed with Covid-19, Gogoi was actively holding parleys with opposition parties to form a grand alliance to take on the ruling BJP in the next assembly elections.

Barring sporadic incidents of violence, mostly perpetrated by the NDFB(S), and the Bodo-Muslim conflict, Gogoi’s third term in office was relatively peaceful.

Gogoi took over the reins of Assam for the first time on May 17, 2001 from Asom Gana Parishad and was faced with the onerous task of bringing the state out of the morass of militancy and financial instability caused by a huge debt burden with even government employees not receiving their salaries on time.

He had mentioned in his memoir “Turnaround”, published in 2016, that he knew “in taking oath and signing the register, my first signature as the chief minister, I would be signing a pledge of responsibility. In carrying out my duties, I would be shaping Assam’ss future”.

The Congress stalwart’s initiatives in this direction paid dividends with the party returning to power for the second consecutive term, albeit with fewer seats, and forming a government in alliance with its coalition partner Bodoland Peoples’ Front.

During the 2016 assembly polls, Gogoi addressed the highest number of public rallies and meetings, without batting an eyelid, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointing out on several occasions that he (Gogoi) was “too old and must go”.

A pragmatic politician, who took both achievements and failure in his stride, had said, “When the history of Assam is penned, my three terms will show up both positives as well as negatives. There will be bouquets and brickbats, criticism and acclaim. But I will leave history to judge these years. I, as a son of the soil, am only content and gratified that I could take centre stage in the turn-around story”. 

23.11.20

India will exceed Paris pact targets: PM

India has set itself an ambitious target of generating 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030. Addressing G-20 leaders on a ‘circular carbon economy approach’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “We will meet our goal of 175 gigawatts of renewable energy well before the target of 2022. Now, we are taking a big step ahead by seeking to achieve 450 gigawatts by 2030.”

India, he said, would not only meet its Paris Accord targets but exceed them.

Climate change, Modi said, “must be fought not in silos but in an integrated, comprehensive and holistic way.” India he said, was adopting low carbon and climate-resilient development practices.

Highlighting two big initiatives spearheaded by India, the International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, Modi said, “we are encouraging a circular economy. India is making next-generation infrastructure such as metro networks, water-ways and more. In addition to convenience and efficiency, they will also contribute to a cleaner environment.”

The ISA is the fastest-growing international alliance with 88 countries having signed up so far. “With plans to mobilise billions of dollars to train thousands of stake-holders, and promote research and development in renewable energy, the ISA will contribute to reducing carbon footprint.”

The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure has 18 countries and four international organisations as members. “Infrastructure damage during natural disasters is a subject that has not got the attention it deserves. The poorer nations are especially impacted by this. Therefore, this coalition is important,” Modi said.

India, he said, has “made LED lights popular. This saves 38 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Smokefree kitchens have been provided to 80 million houses through our Ujjwala scheme.” India was attempting to eliminate the use of single-use plastics, expanding forest cover and encouraging a circular economy.

RBI Twitter Handle Joins Million Followers Club

The Reserve Bank of India has beaten the US Federal Reserve and European Central Bank on Twitter by emerging as the most popular central bank on the microblogging site with one million followers. As per the latest information available on the RBI's twitter handle ‘@RBI’, the number of followers has increased from 9.66 lakh on September 27, 2020, to one million, or 10 lakh. "RBI Twitter account reaches one million followers today. A new milestone. Congratulations to all my colleagues in RBI," governor Shaktikanta Das said in a tweet on Sunday.

22.11.20

Bullet Train Running Late to Mumbai


India’s first and much-vaunted bullet train project, which is expected to streak between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in just about two hours, has lost steam in Maharashtra. All the while, it is picking up pace in neighbouring Gujarat. Five years after the Government of India sanctioned the 508-km long Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Corridor, only 22% land has been acquired in Maharashtra, with no contract awarded in the state as yet. Even the stretch connecting Thane and Virar that requires zero land acquisition — since it is a 21-km tunnel, part of which is under sea — is stuck due to a legal battle over the chopping of mangrove forests.

The high-speed rail — which will cover 348 km in Gujarat, 156 km in Maharashtra and a short 4-km stretch in Dadra & Nagar Haveli — is believed to be a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who laid the foundation stone in Ahmedabad in September 2017 with the then prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. The project was expected to be completed by December 2023 — but that looks impossible now.

While negotiations to acquire land, particularly in the tribal belt of Palghar in Maharashtra, have been difficult from day one in the face of mounting protests from political parties and civil society organisations, a new government in the state has only exacerbated the situation, slamming the brakes on the project.

The Shiv Sena, which wrested power in Maharashtra in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress in 2019, was clear from the beginning that the bullet train was not its priority even though it has not opposed the rail corridor. The Maharashtra government has not contributed a single rupee so far to the National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd, the special purpose vehicle, which is executing the project with a ₹20,000 crore equity fund (50% of which will come from the Railways and 25% each from the Maharashtra and Gujarat governments). Another ₹88,000 crore is given as soft loan by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), with a repayment schedule of 50 years, a moratorium on repayment for 15 years and a meagre interest rate of 0.1%.

The Shiv Sena’s anxieties are understandable. It fears that its ally-turned opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules both the Centre and Gujarat, may usurp the entire credit for the iconic rail project and get political mileage out of it ahead of the 2024 general elections.

“We need to understand what should be the priority for the country versus what’s turning out to be a vanity project for the PM. In a Covid scenario where we have been cutting down on expenses, should the bullet train be the most important project?” asks Priyanka Chaturvedi, Shiv Sena’s deputy leader in Rajya Sabha, adding that the farmers who have given up their land are not getting adequate compensation.

Chaturvedi’s comment sums up the Sena’s stand on the issue — a lack of enthusiasm for the project but not an open opposition to it. The problem is Sena rules the state through which 30% of the project is intended to pass. More significantly, it houses India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, which happens to be the big reason for the project’s viability.

Former Maharashtra CM and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis alleges that the Sena is delaying the project, depriving the state of mammoth investments. “High speed rail corridor will bring in an investment of about ₹50,000 crore to Maharashtra alone. Despite this, the present (state) government has intentionally slowed down the land acquisition process for petty political reasons. If they behave like this, why will the Centre sanction another corridor, say, from Mumbai to Nagpur?” asks Fadnavis.

Look at the contrasting progress report from Gujarat. As much as 85% land (820 of 965 hectares) has been acquired. With a ₹24,985 crore contract for the design and construction of a 237 km line between Vapi and Vadodara already awarded to Larsen and Toubro, the Gujarat section could well be ready in three years’ time. The state has also started contributing to the equity fund by paying ₹105 crore to the kitty, something that symbolises the state owning the project.

The question is simple, although the answer is complex: what happens if the Gujarat portion gets ready and Maharashtra continues to be several years behind schedule? Keeping aside politics and bottlenecks associated with land acquisition, there is one more problem in completing the Maharashtra section even in the next five years. The technical challenges of building an undersea tunnel — the contract for which has yet to be awarded — are such that it could take five and a half years or more to complete, say two railway ministry officials who do not wish to be named.

Does this mean the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train will end up running between Ahmedabad and Surat in Gujarat, at least for a few years, till the issues are sorted out in Maharashtra? If the project is looked at through a political lens, it makes immense sense for the BJP to run the bullet train ahead of the 2024 general elections, showcasing the party’s achievement of a key goal.

Achal Khare, MD of NHSRCL, clarifies: “We have not taken a call as yet on whether we should operate the high-speed rail in phases (for instance, Surat-Ahmedabad). The project is Mumbai-Ahmedabad, and we would like to build the entire portion from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. It’s still not out of control. It can be done.” He, however, concedes that Gujarat has moved much faster than Maharashtra, adding that tenders in Maharashtra will be floated only after 70% of land is acquired, up from the current 22%. A total of 432 hectares need to be acquired in the state.

While the troubles related to land acquisition may persist, there is some relief for the NHSRCL and the Railway Board working on the project. The National Board of Wildlife has approved proposals to divert land in and around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary and the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary — all located in Maharashtra — for the project.

According to the Railways, the ₹1,08,000 crore project will build infrastructure to run trains with a maximum speed of 350 kmph (operating speed will be 320 kmph), facilitating commute between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in just two hours. The journey at present takes six-seven hours. Initially, 10-car trains with 750 seats each will be introduced though the blueprint has a provision to acquire 16-car trains with 1,250 seats each at a later stage. The precise time-line of the project will be clear only after the tender for rolling stock or railway vehicles is invited.

It’s an irony that a high-speed project is losing speed. Unless some loose ends in Maharashtra are tied up urgently, the bullet train may end up arriving very late in Mumbai.

20.11.20

India is only G20 country to meet climate change goal


India is the only country among G20 nations which is on track to meet what it had promised in 2015 under the Paris Agreement on climate change unlike the top three emitters — China, the US and the European Union.

India’s track record of being the only “2-degree Celsius compatible” country was flagged in a report, released on Wednesday, by a coalition of 14 global think-tanks, including TERI, which showed that the other 19 leading and emerging economies were far from achieving their goals. Though China has declared that it will be carbon neutral by 2060, it is in the ‘highly insufficient’ category according to the climate action tracker while India is ‘compatible’ with the 2-degree warming goal.

Of course, India is not on track for a 1.5-degree Celsius pathway — a target which gained momentum only in 2018 when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  came out with a report showing how the 2-degree Celsius goal (keeping the global average temperature rise within 2 degree Celsius by 2100 from the pre-industrial level) would be devastating for the globe. It was assessed that drought and heavy rainfall risks would be much higher at the 2-degree Celsius mark than at 1.5 degree Celsius.

In fact, no country has 1.5-degree Celsius aligned renewable energy targets. India’s renewable energy targets have, however, become an example. “India is the only G20 country which is on a track consistent to move the world to a 2-degree Celsius warming future, though not a 1.5-degree warming future,” TERI director general Ajay Mathur said. He added that the country was able to “move the needle of its carbon emissions trajectory through the largescale adoption of renewable electricity”. The Climate Transparency Report 2020 of the coalition, released ahead of the G20 summit, showed the G20 countries had lost around 2.20 lakh lives and suffered economic losses of $2.6 trillion due to extreme weather events in 20 years during 1999-2018.