Power politics at play

Proposed changes in the Electricity Act could leave the poor behind
A few months before the next general election, the Central government has proposed a set of changes to the Electricity Act 2003. The amendments seek to enable a market transformation in electricity. The link between political power and electrical power is widely known; promises around electricity access, price and quality are important political currency. However, the expenditure of scarce political capital on this issue is puzzling. The amendments will be hard to get through Parliament (an earlier 2014 effort failed) and voters will not see an immediate impact. What is the political rationality of this effort? Who are the winners or losers from these amendments?
The challenge of low demand for existing power is undoubtedly an issue. However, the logic of this move is curious; disincentives to serve poor customers rather than availability of power is the real obstacle to 24×7 power. The gain to generators could come at the cost of customers, who, through the PPAs signed by supply companies, have to ultimately bear the risk of uncertain load growth, prices and migration. The amendments include many other provisions, notably around making the Act more up to date with regard to renewable energy, which is a worthy objective. In terms of the big questions, it places its bets on more competition, subsidy reform, a steering role for the Centre and throwing a lifeline to generators. There is no doubt the status quo is unsatisfactory; India’s electricity sector remains beset with problems. Yet, the amendments leave quite unclear what happens to those left behind by distribution reforms and by efforts to help out generators. Disruptive change in Indian electricity may be needed, even inevitable. But the amendments risk placing the cost of disruption on the backs of the poorest, and shifts the potential for ameliorative measures to the hands of the Centre, rather than the States.
A.K. Swain is Visiting Fellow, P. Bhatia is Research Associate and N.K. Dubash is a Professor at the Centre for Policy Research

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/power-politics-at-play/article25161971.ece

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