Bangladesh now ahead of West Bengal in power consumption, for the first time

Ashis Biswas, Kolkata
Published : 09:30, Oct 31, 2018 | Updated : 19:19, Oct 31, 2018

India-based analysts are impressed with the rapidly rising trend of power consumption in Bangladesh. The fact that daily consumption rose to 11387 megawatts in July and that there has occurred no slackening of overall demand since, is a highly positive indicator of Bangladesh’s progress, they feel.
The July figure was declared a record for Bangladesh, but it had a regional significance as well. State power department sources admitted in Kolkata that a consumption of around 12000 MWs daily would put Bangladesh ahead of West Bengal, for the first time since 1947! The peak demand for West Bengal has been estimated at 11172 MWs daily in 2019, which is lower than the July figure recorded in Bangladesh in 2018 itself.
Further, this record also places Bangladesh as the top power consumer in its immediate regional neighbourhood, as up to now, West Bengal held that position. Taking note, economist Shounak Mukherjee says,’ Bangladesh is fast approaching the level of more advanced, higher power consuming states of India---such as Karnataka and Punjab, for instance. Both are developed states by Asian standards and regarded internationally as models of development whether in IT or industrial production.’ Both are well ahead of West Bengal in terms of economic achievements.
A few comparative stats should prove interesting in this context. In 2016, Punjab was consuming 11200 MWs of power daily, as against a demand for 10525 MWs. Similar figures for Gujarat respectively were 14860 MWs and 15480 MWs which left a small deficit. It was the same with Madhya Pradesh which had corresponding figures of 11481 MWs and 12437 MWs.
However, there were massive additions to power production all over India in recent years as many thermal and hydro projects went on stream. Today, the installed capacity for Maharashtra is well over 31934 MWs and for Gujarat, over 26126 MWs daily (figs provisional).
In comparison demand for power has slowed down markedly in West Bengal, because of a lack of big ticket industrial investment since the 2007 agitation against the Tata Small Car project at Nandigram. The Tatas were forced to pull out, facing a prolonged militant agitation launched by the Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, now the Chief Minister. Their factory, about 85% complete, was abandoned, after nearly Rs 15 billion were spent.
The TMC launched its movement claiming to back the cause of peasants who stood to lose their plots and refused to budge. On the other hand over 80% of the local peasants and landholders had vacated their plots to support the construction of the factory, which was relocated at Sanand, Gujarat.
As a result of industrial stagnation and lack of big investments, west Bengal now concentrates more on exporting (selling) the power it produces to other areas, including Bangladesh. Daily consumption has been fluctuating between 6500 MWs to 7544 at peak during festive seasons, for several years.
Still, with new thermal power station at Sagardighi and other ongoing projects West Bengal will be able to produce its required 11172 MWs power for daily consumption by 2019, experts feel. ‘ The fact that there has been no load shedding for some years in Bengal, which prides itself on being power surplus, should be a cause of concern for the state government, not a matter of pride. It has to be understood why Bangladesh is still short of power, because the demand goes up all the time, a healthy sign for a developing country. It is the same with Telengana, greater Delhi and Haryana, where also the demand continues to rise. In Bengal, the rulers are putting the clock back,’ Left Trade union leader Subhas Mukherjee once said at a rally.
So far in West Bengal, there has been no major reaction from policymakers or opinion makers as Bangladesh has edged ahead on the power front. However, those monitoring such trends are happy, if a tad wistful over the way it used to be.
‘For as long as we can remember especially since 1757, the Western part of undivided Bengal led the rest of the flourishing province in economic development. In 2018, the first major signs of a change have been seen. But the growing annual GDP of Bangladesh, at around $240 billion annually, has surpassed that of West Bengal, around $155 billion, some time ago. True, Bangladesh has nearly 160 million people compared to 90-odd millions living in West Bengal, but that is not the whole story, ‘ says Mukherjee. If Bangladesh takes over the lead in industrial development over West Bengal in the new millennium, Mukherjee would not feel sorry.
What impresses observers like him is the rate of Bangaldesh’s progress since the 1970s when it had been written off as a ‘bottomless basket’ by eminent people like Henry Kissinger. Only 3% of the people were over the poverty line in 1971. In 1974 the newly born country survived a famine.
But within five decades, the overpopulated country despite severe economic strains, is approaching the status of advanced Indian states like Punjab or Karnakata in power consumption and other areas, Mukherjee points out. This is no mean feat, he stresses. Unlike Bangladesh, Punjab or Karnakata had never been exploited from 1947 to 1970 by a ruthless political regime based in erstwhile West Pakistan.
On the topic of Pakistan, this report would remain incomplete without at least one reference. The country has been facing a crippling power shortage for some years, despite an installed capacity of 25,000 MWs, demand never exceeded 22,000 MWs. The extent of the daily shortfall is ranges between 5000 to 6000 MWs daily, which has left big industries fuming. No wonder entrepreneurs are known for offloading production to other countries, including Bangladesh.