Friday, August 3, 2012

Gandhian Concept of Democracy in Power Distribution

The largest black out in human history, which India faced shall remain the largest for quite some time to come as it is quite impossible to replicate the same anywhere else, unless China also fails in an equal miserable way (the chances of which aren’t remote as China’s demand for power is also more that its capacity to generate). This blackout had left millions stranded in the dark for a long time, there were miner trapped, hospitals disabled. Those who could afford ran their back up systems and could maintain the status quo but what about those who are dependent solely on the power supplied by the government? They had no choice but to suffer silently.
In a typical reactive mode our government is now talking of reforms in the power sector. But one needs to ask what kind of reforms? Privatization? Even if the UPA government gathers enough courage to usher in such changes, at best it would benefit a few large corporates who will walk away filling their coffers at the cost of the common man. Do we have an alternative one may ask? This is where we can think of replicating what Mahatma said about Democracy, in power sector.

According to Gandhiji, True Democracy is devolution of power to the grass root levels. He envisaged a society/nation in which the government (if at all it exists) would play only a regulatory role. The true power shall be with the people in the form of gram panchayats and equivalent local bodies. This also applies to the power sector where we can make the generation and distribution of power localized, whereby small units of power generation would meet the demands of the surrounding regions making them self sufficient. These units may be connected by a grid but they would also be able to function independently in case the grid fails.
One need not be an expert in Power Generation & Distribution to see the advantages of such a system, some of which are listed below:
1) A large scale black out would not occur as such a grid of localized, independent functional units would reduce the dependence on large units located at a distant location. Hence if a fault occurs that region may go offline there by saving other regions, in fact if the other units have more capacity they may pitch in if they can. This is not a new concept but just breaking down of the existing gargantuan power generators into smaller ones. The ancient wisdom of not placing all our eggs in one basket!
2) This logically takes us to the next advantage which is eliminating the need for huge generating centres like Nuclear Power Plants, Thermal Power Plants and Hydro Electric Power Generation Systems. All these huge systems are ecologically damaging and we have no choice to carry on with them, unless we decide to change. In the current scheme of things it would only make sense to build more of these at the cost of our own lives, but in a better changed scenarios these might seem like huge toxin spewing monsters which are a result of our earlier mistakes.
3) Such a system would also reduce the need to transmit power over long distances. On an average we lose about 32% of our power due to transmission losses. An unconditioned mind, like that of a child would wonder at the our stupidity of not trying to find out a way that is more efficient, but we have accepted the faulty system and we keep burdening it more. This would lead to better utilization of the infrastructure and also save cost – not to  mention the uses that 32% of generated power can be put to.
4) To add to these smaller project would need lesser setting up costs and hence they can break even soon. This might encourage a lot of people to invest!!! 
As Swamy Vivekananda said ‘An ounce of practice is better than tons of tall talks’ so we need to think if such a change is feasible? The answer is Yes. Lot of small, ecologically safe, non-conventional power generation projects can transform the scenario. Instead of investing Billions in one huge project in one place, can’t we invest thousands in thousands of villages to establish, Gobar Gas Plants, Solar Plants, Windmills etc.? The private sector would also actively participate if the government encourages it with proper subsidies and incentives. After all they can make money by selling the power. We can explore Tidal Energy after all we have such a long coastline! By taking a small step at a time, if all the stake holders work together we may bring a transformation to the way we generate and distribute power and we would also light up every village in out nation.
At the risk of sounding a libertarian socialist let the POWER be with the PEOPLE.


Karthick Santhanam said...

Good thinking, but unlike democracy corruption has already spread to the grass root levels. By giving the power grid to localized levels, we are leaving it vulnerable to corruption and malpractice. Would need strong supervision and control which the government cannot provide.

Madan Panathula said...

Karthick, In principle yes, what you say makes sense but practically the strongest reason for propogation of corruption is that the systems which are put in place to check corruption are themselves corrupt. Bigger the system (Organization, Government et al) more institutionalized is the corruption. So break it down and I am sure people can manage themselves better!