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Power policy needs review

The failure of the northern power grid on Monday morning that affected several states, including Delhi, is not a surprising event. It is no secret that India’s power sector is facing one of its worst crises in recent history with rapid urbanisation and industrialisation combined with the accompanying capacity deficit to meet those challenges.

Some figures are stark. India’s network loss stands at 32 per cent, more than double the global average of 15 per cent. A large majority of these losses are what are termed as “non-technical”, which include power theft. Technical losses include outdated technology and infrastructure, faulty meters, non-collection of payments, etc.

Even though Monday’s power grid failure may have its own reasons, it stands out as a metaphor for all that is wrong with the power sector in India. The Delhi Metro, for instance, has access to its own private power infrastructure and was supported by power from Bhutan, which ironically, is heavily funded by India for all its power needs.

Power companies have every right to complain about lack of cash reserves to modernise; after all, they have no option but to give away free electricity to farmers across the country. This freebie has given rise to a new problem — depletion of water tables as the free power is often subject to how much water you draw from the ground for irrigation. To keep the free power regime going, farmers often overdraw.

As a result of these skewed policies, more than 300 million people in India have no access to electricity, including six per cent of the urban population. And those who do only have intermittent power. For example, in many of the states, load-shedding is the rule rather than the exception. Industrialisation and productivity, therefore, take a backseat while appeasement of vote banks is top priority.

This is precisely the kind of policy regime that India needs to unshackle itself from. Sadly, given political compulsions, that is unlikely. Power cuts, on the other hand, are more probable.

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