'Open access' tops my priority list, says new power secretary

P Uma Shankar, 56, is treading carefully as the Ministry of Power’s newest secretary. Four-weeks into his tenure, following HS Brahma’s 11-month term, Shankar has landed in a tenuous office which will be at the forefront of shaping and implementing the country’s power-sector policies through the 11th Five Year Plan until June 20, 2013. If completed, Shankar’s three-year-term would be the second-longest for a power secretary since India implemented its Electricity Act in 2003, putting him in position to be among the most influential power secretaries. Less than a month into his new job, Shankar spoke about the power sector’s short-term and long-term dilemmas. Excerpts:

You have been a part of the Centre’s power picture for some time now. Under your purview, what are the sector’s greatest challenges?

Of course, capacity addition is the first thing that comes to mind, and that’s nothing new. The problems and priorities of the sector and ministry were identified by the government well before I came here. But for a long time, I had heard about the problems from the sidelines. It is certainly different to be in the centre of it all.

Other goals and objectives?

I am receiving reports on APDRP, to reduce our transmission and distribution losses, as well as pushing our rural electrification targets which we hope to have in place in the next two years. Of course, open access has to be toward the top of our list.

The Plan panel recently held a dialogue on open access where states were also present. What were their complaints?

Yes, recently we sat down with the investors and discussed open access. The problems come down to convincing the stakeholders in way that persuades them to implement the policy so that all producers, one-mega watt and above, will be able to share their power. There is no single policy which will change the minds of those states which are not abiding. We must continue to talk and take steps forward.

What about the proposed import duty on power projects?

That meeting was postponed to a later date. All I will say is that the issues have been brought to the table and we know everyone's concerns. They will be discussed in an effort to ensure a level playing field while reaching the country’s targets.

Is it a good idea to ask foreign investors to have a financial foundation in India before allowing them to enter into agreements for supplying equipment or other goods and services?

Any company coming from the outside, in collaboration with an Indian entity over a period of time, will result in the transfer of technologies and skills we require. For this healthy collaboration to take place, this kind of policy could be a good idea.

Have you been in touch with your counterparts in coal, gas and environment and forests?

Yes, we have been in touch with some of them and meeting with the respective ministries. We have been in touch with coal and gas, as they are integral to the power sector's growth. But I am spending most of my time learning.

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