Power haves, power have-nots

Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal has promised 24×7 electricity supply to all Indians by March 2019. A decade ago, launching the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, the UPA government had set a similar target to ensure universal access to electricity by 2012. Yet, a quarter of the Indian population still lacks access to electricity. The major problem is in the stressed distribution sector — mainly in the public sector, coupled with freebies given to vested interests. Unless that is addressed squarely, the 2019 target will be just another mirage.

From an optimistic vantage point, the power sector has come a long way in the last two decades, with significant achievements. These include a tripling of the generation capacity with noteworthy private-sector participation, renewable portfolio of 12 per cent in the energy mix, grid connectivity across the country, extension of access to more than 250 million users and some transformations in the market structure.

Yet, the overall potential of the sector remains unrealised and expectations are unmet. The lack of reliable power supply is a potential constraint on growth. While 300 million Indians still lack access to electricity and per capita consumption is significantly below global standards, the peak power deficit hovers around 5 per cent. The sector’s finances are in the doldrums, in the absence of any significant correction in distribution losses.

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