News Wrap


India is far from successful in carrying out electricity sector reforms, and lacks adequate electricity transmission capacity, which creates surplus electricity generations capacities. Over the last decade, Tripura attracted the largest investment in power sector, in the North-east. Gas-resource rich Tripura is now flooded with electricity. The state had banked heavily on power capacity addition, to serve the dual purpose of industrialization and earning revenues through sale of surplus power. The first unit of 2×363.3 mw ONGC Tripura Power (OTPC), and the second unit 104 mw NEEPCO project are already commissioned. Since April 2015, the total availability of power (including central allocations) and own generation to Tripura, has increased from 250 mw to 450 mw. With peak demand of 250 mw, every evening Tripura’s exportable surplus is 200 to 300 mw each day. With a mere Rs 3000 crore revenue budget, Tripura lost Rs 100 crore in electricity sales in 2013-14. The loss is likely to increase in 2014-15, since in the absence of buyers, Tripura resorted to either distress sale of electricity, or paid up generation utility for not lifting the quota. There has been a delay in commissioning the power evacuation facility from Tripura to the National Electricity Grid in Bongaigon (Assam). Electricity trade was restricted with the industry starved north-east. Commissioning of the power distribution project on 19 February 2015, enables Tripura to sell power to entire eastern India and parts of northern India. But there are no takers for electricity at a remunerative price. The spot tariff on national grid is as low as Rs 2 per unit, which is just half the cost of generation of the new coal fired plants of NTPC. Tripura’s gas based electricity is costlier, and the loss even higher.

The southern regional market could be accessed by Tripura, on completion of the capacity augmentation of the 1971 km Biswanath Chariyali (Assam) to Agra (Uttar Pradesh) transmission facility. South India may offer a better price for Tripura’s electricity, but the total demand shortfall in the south is minuscule, compared to the surplus capacities. Tripura exports 500 mw electricity to Bangladesh through the West Bengal border. The proposed 47 km transmission line, from Suryamaninagar in Tripura to South Comilla in Bangladesh, will augment 100 mw electricity from Tripura to Bangladesh.

Freedom of Worship
New mass conversions of Christians in India have raised concerns over freedom of worship. If there is any element of compulsion or bribery, conversion is illegal. In recent months, a series of attempts by right-wing Hindu groups to hold mass conversion ceremonies have caused concern. In December 2014, a Hindu group conducted a ‘‘reconversion’’ ceremony for more than 200 Muslims in the Northern city of Agra (Uttar Pradesh). The hard-line group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) ‘‘reconverted’’ more than twenty Christians in the southern state of Kerala. Between 50 and 100 Christians from some of the poorest communities were ‘‘welcomed back’’ to Hinduism in a ‘‘homecoming ceremony’’, in a remote area in the eastern state of West Bengal, during the first week of February 2015. Communities involved in the recent incidents are already vulnerable, and the campaign seems quite aggressive. The VHP believes that it is not committing any sin by bringing back Indians to the Pre-Islamic and Pre-Christian Hindu religion. The group in its service to the country, continues with the ‘‘ghar wapsi’’ (home coming) country. Around 1000 local people have been baptised to Christianity, in poverty striken and remote areas, over the last year. Most converted to Christianity are from the so-called tribal or ‘‘adivasi’’ community, among the most deprived in India. The VHP penetrates the remote backward areas by laying foundation stones for students’ hostels, health care centres, and schools for the poor. The group’s ‘‘welcoming back’’ campaign to Hinduism, come from the same broad Hindu nationalist movement, as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Cuba Opening up
Miramar Trade Centre, in an upmarket district of Cuba’s Havana, is home to international construction firms, Russian oil companies, Canadian and European banks and traders. The Caribbean island has a long history of communist rule, and is only slowly opening up its economy. Businesses are hampered by regulations and US sanctions related to international finance. There are 200 operating investment projects in Cuba, ranging from joint ventures to management agreements and oil exploration. International conglomerates such as Bougyues, Nestle, and Anheuser-Busch InBev have interests in Cuba. Since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, many private enterprises have been successful, while some 60% of the businesses set up by foreigners have closed. Nearly everything is owned by the state. Every direct investment in Cuba, requires the authorization of the highest government body. The state partner is also the supplier, the employer of the staff, the buyer, the regulating authority, and the taxes regulatory authority. The corruption dragnet is severe, and foreign entrepreneurs are frequently accused of ‘‘revealing state secrets’’ and ‘‘illegal activities’’. The legal process is contrary to any western concept of fairness, and blantantly ignores all the relevant international laws. Foreign managers have to put up with lack of economic information, delays in obtaining decisions from the state, and regulations which can hamper and delay business operations.

Vol. 47, No. 42, Apr 26 - May 2, 2015