August 15, 2013

Theft takes the wind out of power producers in Rajasthan

Srikanta Tripathy, Vimal Bhatia & Ajay Parmar, TNN | Aug 15, 2013 | The Times of India |

JAIPUR/JAISALMER/JODHPUR: The sharp spike in the incidents of theft of high-value wind mill parts has dealt a huge blow to the green power producers in Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Barmer region, forcing many to look for other states.

Industry estimates peg the value of thefts at around Rs 150 crore over the past 18 months and for the producers the loss could be much more as they will not only have to use new components but require time to get them while having to keep the mills idle for months together.

What was considered as petty thefts earlier have now taken the shape of an organized operation. About 15% of the turbines put up by developers like Suzlon Energy, Inox Wind, Gammesa, and Enercon (India) are under complete breakdown due to theft, a source in the industry body Indian Wind Power Association (IWPA) said. While the direct loss is estimated at Rs 100 crore, the discontinuity in power generation and other opportunity costs could mean nothing less than Rs 150 crore, he added.

“We have two wind mills in Jaisalmer put up at an investment of Rs 18 crore. Thieves have stolen key components of both mills. One of them is non-functional for the past five months and the other for past one and half months,” said Vinod Singh Rajpurohit , a wind power producer.

The sophisticated modus operandi of the thieves has baffled the industry body, which last month wrote a letter to chief minister Ashok Gehlot seeking an end to the growing menace . Earlier, the gangs or individuals involved in theft used muscle power or lathis at best to beat and scare the company security personnel stationed at some sites.

But over the last couple of years, incidents have shown use of weapons like pistols. Gangs arriving at the targeted sites in a fleet of SUVs are now a common practice. Last month, a gang of thieves clashed with security personnel in their bid to steal copper cables of a turbine at Pethodai village in Jaisalmer. The thieves fired indiscriminately and one security guard was injured by a sharp weapon.

‘Organized chain behind operation’

What is puzzling many is the precision with which the operations are carried out by the gangs. A company official said, “The thieves know the exact location in the turbine which needs to be cut. It requires an in-depth understanding of the turbines whose height varies between 70-110 meters. They use electric cutting machines and get their job done in a very professional manner.”

Given the sophisticated modus operandi and the huge amount involved, there is a suspicion that the menace cannot be confined to petty theft. For example, the turbines contain 1-1 .5 tonne of high-value refined copper, which fetches around Rs 15-20 lakh in black market . They also need a heavy transport logistics to ferry the material and find a market for selling the huge quantities. “Without an organized chain, the whole operation cannot be sustained,” added the official.

The police have so far failed to establish any other reason barring petty theft. But when asked about the scale of operation and the huge sums involved, former Jaisalmer SP Pankaj Choudhary said the police should look into other angles.

There is a thinking in the industry that the money made out of the theft is used for drug trafficking from Pakistan border. But Choudhary said so far there is no evidence of the money being used for drugs. However, he said there is a need to investigate narcotics angle as well given the scale of the operation.

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