History of Indian Power Sector

The power sector in India has undergone significant progress after Independence. When India became independent in 1947, the country had a power generating capacity of 1,362 MW. Hydro power and coal based thermal power have been the main sources of generating electricity. Generation and distribution of electrical power was carried out primarily by private utility companies. Notable amongst them and still in existence is Calcutta Electric. Power was available only in a few urban centers; rural areas and villages did not have electricity.After 1947, all new power generation, transmission and distribution in the rural sector and the urban centers (which was not served by private utilities) came under the purview of State and Central government agencies. State Electricity Boards (SEBs) were formed in all the states. Nuclear power development is at slower pace, which was introduced, in late sixties. The concept of operating power systems on a regional basis crossing the political boundaries of states was introduced in the early sixties. In spite of the overall development that has taken place, the power supply industry has been under constant pressure to bridge the gap between supply and demand.


Development of Power Sector is the key to the economic development. The power Sector has been receiving adequate priority ever since the process of planned development began in 1950. The Power Sector has been getting 18-20% of the total Public Sector outlay in initial plan periods. Remarkable growth and progress have led to extensive use of electricity in all the sectors of economy in the successive five years plans. Over the years (since 1950) the installed capacity of Power Plants (Utilities) has increased to 89090 MW (31.3.98) from meagre 1713 MW in 1950, registering a 52d fold increase in 48 years. Similarly, the electricity generation increased from about 5.1 billion units to 420 Billion units – 82 fold increase. The per capita consumption of electricity in the country also increased from 15 kWh in 1950 to about 338 kWh in 1997-98, which is about 23 times. In the field of Rural Electrification and pump set energisation, country has made a tremendous progress. About 85% of the villages have been electrified except far-flung areas in North Eastern states, where it is difficult to extend the grid supply.


Till December 1950 about 37% of the installed capacity in the Utilities was in the public sector and about 63% was in the private sector. The Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956 envisaged the generation, transmission and distribution of power almost exclusively in the public sector. As a result of this Resolution and facilitated by the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1948, the electricity industry developed rapidly in the State Sector.

In the Constitution of India “Electricity” is a subject that falls within the concurrent jurisdiction of the Centre and the States. The Electricity (Supply) Act, 1948, provides an elaborate institutional frame work and financing norms of the performance of the electricity industry in the country. The Act envisaged creation of State Electricity Boards (SEBs) for planning and implementing the power development programmes in their respective States. The Act also provided for creation of central generation companies for setting up and operating generating facilities in the Central Sector. The Central Electricity Authority constituted under the Act is responsible for power planning at the national level. In addition the Electricity (Supply) Act also allowed from the beginning the private licensees to distribute and/or generate electricity in the specified areas designated by the concerned State Government/SEB.

During the post independence period, the various States played a predominant role in the power development. Most of the States have established State Electricity Boards. In some of these States separate corporations have also been established to install and operate generation facilities. In the rest of the smaller States and UTs the power systems are managed and operated by the respective electricity departments. In a few States private licencees are also operating in certain urban areas.

From, the Fifth Plan onwards i.e. 1974-79, the Government of India got itself involved in a big way in the generation and bulk transmission of power to supplement the efforts at the State level and took upon itself the responsibility of setting up large power projects to develop the coal and hydroelectric resources in the country as a supplementary effort in meeting the country’s power requirements. The National thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and National Hydro-electric Power Corporation (NHPC) were set up for these purposes in 1975. North-Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) was set up in 1976 to implement the regional power projects in the North-East. Subsequently two more power generation corporations were set up in 1988 viz. Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC) and Nathpa Jhakri Power Corporation (NJPC). To construct, operate and maintain the inter-State and interregional transmission systems the National Power Transmission Corporation (NPTC) was set up in 1989. The corporation was renamed as POWER GRID in 1992.

The policy of liberalisation the Government of India announced in 1991 and consequent amendments in Electricity (Supply) Act have opened new vistas to involve private efforts and investments in electricity industry. Considerable emphasis has been placed on attracting private investment and the major policy changes have been announced by the Government in this regard which are enumerated below:

  • The Electricity (Supply) Act, 1948 was amended in 1991 to provide for creation of private generating companies for setting up power generating facilities and selling the power in bulk to the grid or other persons.
  • Financial Environment for private sector units modified to allow liberal capital structuring and an attractive return on investment. Up to hundred percent (100%) foreign equity participation can be permitted for projects set up by foreign private investors in the Indian Electricity Sector.
  • Administrative & Legal environment modified to simplify the procedures for clearances of the projects.
  • Policy guidelines for private sector participation in the renovation & modernisation of power plants issued in 1995.
  • In 1995, the policy for Mega power projects of capacity 1000 MW or more and supplying power to more than one state introduced. The Mega projects to be set up in the regions having coal and hydel potential or in the coastal regions based on imported fuel. The Mega policy has since been refined and Power Trading Corporation (PTC) incorporated recently to promote and monitor the Mega Power Projects. PTC would purchase power from the Mega Private Projects and sell it to the identified SEBs.
  • In 1995 GOI came out with liquid fuel policy permitting liquid fuel based power plants to achieve the quick capacity addition so as to avert a severe power crisis. Liquid fuel linkages (Naphtha) were approved for about 12000 MW Power plant capacity. The non-traditional fuels like condensate and orimulsion have also been permitted for power generation.
  • GOI has promulgated Electricity Regulatory Commission Act, 1998 for setting up of Independent Regulatory bodies both at the Central level and at the State level viz. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) and the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERCs) at the Central and the State levels respectively. The main function of the CERC are to regulate the tariff of generating companies owned or controlled by the Central Government, to regulate the tariff of generating companies, other than those owned or controlled by the Central Government, if such generating companies enter into or otherwise have a composite scheme for generation and sale of electricity in more than one State to regulate the inter-state transmission of energy including tariff of the transmission utilities, to regulate inter-state bulk sale of power and to aid & advise the Central Government in formulation of tariff policy. The CERC has been constituted on 24.7.1998.
  • The main functions of the SERC would be to determine the tariff for electricity wholesale bulk, grid or retail, to determine the tariff payable for use by the transmission facilities to regulate power purchase and procurement process of transmission utilities and distribution utilities, to promote competition, efficiency and economy in the activities of the electricity industries etc. Subsequently, as and when each State Government notifies, other regulatory functions would also be assigned to SERCs.
  • The Electricity Laws (Amendment) Act, 1998 passed with a view to make transmission as a separate activity for inviting greater participation in investment from public and private sectors. The participation by private sector in the area of transmission is proposed to be limited to construction and maintenance of transmission lines for operation under the supervision and control of Central Transmission Utility (CTU)/State Transmission Utility (STU). On selection of the private company, the CTU/STU would recommend to the CERC/SERC for issue of transmission licence to the private company.
  • The Electricity Laws (Amendment) Act, 1998 provides for creation of Central and State Transmission utilities. The function of the Central Transmission Utility shall be to undertake transmission of energy through inter-state transmission system and discharge all functions of planning and coordination relating to inter-state transmission system with State Transmission Utilities, Central Government, State Governments, generating companies etc. Power Grid Corporation of India Limited will be Central Transmission Utility.
  • The function of the State Transmission Utility shall be to undertake transmission of energy through intra-state transmission system and discharge all functions of planning and coordination relating to intra-state transmission system with Central Transmission Utility, State Governments, generating companies etc.


The share of hydel generation in the total generating capacity of the country has declined from 34 per cent at the end of the Sixth Plan to 29 per cent at the end of the Seventh Plan and further to 25.5 per cent at the end of Eighth Plan. The share is likely to decline even further unless suitable corrective measures are initiated immediately. Hydel power projects, with storage facilities, provide peak time support to the power system. Inadequate hydel support in some of the regions is adversely affecting the performance of the thermal power plants. In Western and Eastern regions, peaking power is being provided by thermal plants, some of which have to back down during off peak hours.


In order to optimally utilise the dispersed sources for power generation it was decided right at the beginning of the 1960’s that the country would be divided into 5 regions and the planning process would aim at achieving regional self sufficiency. The planning was so far based on a Region as a unit for planning and accordingly the power systems have been developed and operated on regional basis. Today, strong integrated grids exist in all the five regions of the country and the energy resources developed are widely utilised within the regional grids. Presently, the Eastern & North-Eastern Regions are operating in parallel. With the proposed inter-regional links being developed it is envisaged that it would be possible for power to flow any where in the country with the concept of National Grid becoming a reality during 12th Plan Period.


The size of the generating unit that has been used in the country in coal based power stations has progressively increased from about 15 MW prior to the era of planned development to 500 MW at present. With the introduction of new design of generating units, certain difficulties arose in their efficient operation and maintenance. The availability of coal in the country is such that the higher grades of coal, which have higher calorific value, have been exhausted and progressively lower grades of coal are being made available for electricity generation in the power stations. This had resulted into operational problems with the boilers designed for higher grades of coal and also put more pressure on coal handling plants etc. As a result of these technical and managerial problems, the utilisation level of coal based power stations in the country declined in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The all India Thermal PLF which was as low as 27% at the beginning of First Plan progressively increased to 47.%% by the year 1963-64 and than declined to around 42% by early seventies. During one year in the seventies i.e. during 1976-77, the PLF touched 55.4% but this could not be sustained during subsequent years. Several factors such as inadequate maintenance of generating units, the teething troubles faced in the operation of the newly introduced 200/210 MW units and the deterioration in the quality of coal supplied to power stations led to a gradual erosion in the PLF of the thermal power plants during 5th plan period. During the 6th Plan, Department of Power and Central Electricity Authority undertook a comprehensive programme to renovate and modernize old units located in different States. The performance of 200/210 MW units also begin to stabilize. Concerted efforts were made by Ministry of Coal to monitor quality of coal supplies to power plants. As a result of all these measures the PLF of thermal plants registered a gradual improvement during the 7th plan period. The plant load factor of thermal power stations in the country, which was only 44.2% in 1980-81, increased to 56.5% by the end of the 7th Plan. The all India Average PLF of the Thermal Power Plants has further increased to 64.4% by the end of eighth plan.



The initial response of the domestic and foreign investors to the policy of private participation in power sector has been extremely encouraging. However, many projects have encountered unforeseen delays. There have been delays relating to finalization of power purchase agreements, guarantees and counter-guarantees, environmental clearances, matching transmission networks and legally enforceable contracts for fuel supplies. The shortfall in the private sector was due to the emergence of a number of constraints, which were not anticipated at the time the policy was formulated. The most important is that lenders are not willing to finance large independent power projects, selling power to a monopoly buyer such as SEB, which is not financially sound because of the payment risk involved if SEBs do not pay for electricity generated by the IPP. Uncertainties about fuel supply arrangements and the difficulty in negotiating arrangements with public sector fuel suppliers, which concern penalties for non-performance, is another area of potential difficulty. It is important to resolve these difficulties and evolve a framework of policy which can ensure a reasonable distribution of risks which make power sector projects financially attractive.

The capacity addition programme for the 9th Plan envisaged around 17,588 MW to be added by private generating companies. In order to achieve the targeted private sector capacity addition during the Ninth Plan, the following additional facilitating measures have recently been suggested by the promoters. Most of these have been accepted while some of them are under the consideration of the Government.

Speedy environmental clearance

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has agreed to delegate the powers to States for environmental clearance of:

- all co-generation plants and captive plants up to 250 MW;
- Coal based plants up to 500 MW using fluidized technology subject to sensitive areas restrictions;
- Power stations up to 250 MW on conventional technology.
- Gas/Naphtha based stations up to 500 MW.

Viability of SEBs

The financial health of the SEBs will be improved through rationalization of tariff, restructuring and reforms to make them economically viable and their projects bankable to generate energy on economic rate, to provide quality services to the consumers and to ensure a fair return to the investors. This can be best achieved by unbunding single entity (SEBs) and corporatising the same for the above activities. In this context, some of the States have taken initiative by unbundling their respective SEBs into separate companies for Generation & Transmission & Distribution.

Regulatory bodies

The Government of India has promulgated Electricity Regulatory Commission Act, 1998 for setting up of Independent regulatory bodies both at the Central level and at the State level viz. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) and the State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs) at the Central and the State Levels respectively. These regulatory bodies would primarily look into all aspects of tariff fixation and matters incidental thereto.


The most important cause of the problems being faced in the power sector is the irrational and unremunerative tariff structure. Although the tariff is fixed and realized by SEBs, the State Governments have constantly interfered in tariff setting without subsidizing SEBs for the losses arising out of State Governments desire to provide power at concessional rates to certain sectors, especially agriculture. Power Supply to agriculture and domestic consumers is heavily subsidized. Only a part of this subsidy is recovered by SEBs through cross subsidization of tariff from commercial and industrial consumers. The SEBs, in the process, have been incurring heavy losses. If the SEBs were to continue to operate on the same lines, their internal resources generation during the next ten years will be negative, being of the order of Rs.(-) 77,000 crore. This raises serious doubts about the ability of the States to contribute their share to capacity addition during the Ninth Plan and thereafter. This highlights the importance of initiating power sector reforms at the earliest and the need for tariff rationalization.


The Orissa Government was the first to introduce major reforms in power sector through enactment of Orissa Reforms Act, 1995. Under this Act, Orissa Generating Company, Orissa Grid Company and Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission have been formed. Similarly, the Haryana Government has also initiated reform programme by unbundling the State Electricity Board into separate companies and Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission has already been constituted.

With a view to improve the functioning of State Electricity Boards, the Government promulgated the State Electricity Regulatory Commission Act for establishment of Central Electricity Regulatory Commission at the national level and State Electricity Regulatory Commission in the States for rationalisation of tariff and the matters related thereto. Subsequent to the enactment of ERC Act, 1998 more and more States are coming up with an action plan to undertake the reform programmes. In this respect, Governments of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra have referred their proposals for setting up independent regulatory mechanism in their States.

The Electricity (Amendment) Act 1998 was passed with a view to make transmission as a separate activity for inviting greater participation in investment from public and private sectors. The participation by private sector in the area of transmission is proposed to be limited to construction and maintenance of transmission lines for operation under the supervision and control of Central Transmission Utility (CTU)/State Transmission Utility (STU). On selection of the private company, the CTU/STU would recommend to the CERC/SERC for issue of transmission license to the private company. In this regard, the Government of Karnataka is the first to invite private sector participation in transmission by setting up joint-venture company. Other States are also in the process of introducing the reforms in the transmission sector.

In view of the urgent need to reduce transmission and distribution losses and to ensure availability of reliable power supply to the consumers reforms in the distribution sectors are also been considered by establishing distribution companies in different regions of the State. The entry of private investors will be encouraged wherever feasible and it is proposed to carry out these reforms in a phased manner. The Governments of Orissa and Haryana have already initiated reforms in the distribution sector by setting up distribution companies for each zone within their States.

With these efforts, it is expected that the performance of power sector will improve because of rationalisation of tariff structures of SEBs and adequate investment for transmission and distribution sector.


Power supply position at the beginning of 9th plan

The total installed capacity at the beginning of 9th Plan i.e. 1.4.97 was 85,795 MW comprising 21,658 MW Hydro, 61,012 MW Thermal including gas and diesel, 2,225 MW Nuclear and 900 MW Wind based power plants.

The actual power supply position at the beginning of the 9th Plan indicates peak shortage of 11,477 MW (18%) and energy shortage of 47,590 MU (11.5%) on All India basis. To meet the growing demand and shortages encountered, sufficient capacity would need to be added in subsequent plan periods.

Ninth plan capacity addition programme

The Working Group on Power, constituted by Planning Commission, in its report of December 1996 had formulated, a need based capacity addition programme of 57,735 MW for the Ninth Plan which would by and large meet the power requirements projected in 15th Electric Power Survey Report. However, it was felt that this capacity addition of 57,735 MW is not feasible and a target for capacity addition of 40245 MW was fixed for Ninth Five-year plan. The above target was finalised after considering the status of Sanctioned/ongoing schemes, new projects in pipeline, likely gestation period for completion of the projects and likely availability of funds. The Sector-wise/type-wise details are given below:


Sector-wise / type-wise capacity addition programme during ninth plan (Figures in MW)

Sector Hydro Thermal Nuclear Total
Central 3455.0 7574.0 880 11909
State 5814.7 4933.0 10747.7
Private 550.0 17038.5 17588.5
TOTAL 9819.7 29545.5 880.0 40245.2

Thermal Power Stations in India, where poor quality of coal is used, add to environmental degradation problems through gaseous emissions, particulate matter, fly ash and bottom ash. Growth of manufacturing industries, in public sector as well as in private sector has further aggravated the situation by deteriorating the ambient air quality. Ash content being in abundance in Indian coal, problem of fly ash and bottom ash disposal increase day by day. The fly ash generated in thermal power station causes many hazardous diseases like Asthma, Tuberculosis etc.

Air pollution

Initially, perceptions of objectionable effects of air pollutants were limited to those easily detected like odour, soiling of surfaces and smoke stacks. Later, it was the concern over long term/chronic effects that led to the identification of six criteria pollutants. These six criteria pollutants are sulphur di-oxide (SO2), Carbon Mono-oxide (CO), Nitrogen oxide (NO2), Ozone (O3), suspended particulates and non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC) now referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOC). There is substantial evidence linking them to health effects at high concentrations. Three of them namely O3, SO2 and NO2 are also known phytotoxicants (toxic to vegetation). In the later part Lead (Pb) was added to that list.

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)

Most of the NOx is emitted as NO which is oxidised to NO2 in the atmosphere. All combustion processes are sources of NOx at the high temperature generated in the combustion process. Formation of NOX may be due to thermal NOx which is the result of oxidation of nitrogen in the air due to fuel NOx which is due to nitrogen present in the fuel. Some of NO2 will be converted to NO3 in the presence of 02. In general, higher the combustion temperature the higher NOx is produced. Some of NOx is oxidised to NO3, an essential ingredient of acid precipitation and fog. In addition, NO2 absorbs visible light and in high concentrations can contribute to a brownish discoloration of the atmosphere.

Sulphur Oxide

The combustion of sulphur containing fossil fuels, especially coal is the primary source of SOx. About 97 to 99% of SOx emitted from combustion sources is in the form of Sulphur Di-oxide which is a criteria pollutant, the remainder is mostly SO3, which in the presence of atmospheric water is transformed into Sulphuric Acid at higher concentrations, produce deleterious effects on the respiratory system. In addition, SO2 is phytotoxicant.

Particulate matter

The terms particulate matter, particulate, particles are used interchangeably and all refer to finely divided solids and liquids dispersed in the air.

Water pollution

Water pollution refers to any change in natural waters that may impair further use of the water, caused by the introduction of organic or inorganic substances or a change in temperature of the water.

In thermal power stations the source of water is either river, lake, pond or sea where from water is usually taken. There is possibility of water being contaminated from the source itself. Further contamination or pollution could be added by the pollutants of thermal power plant waste as inorganic or organic compounds.

Land degradation

The thermal power stations are generally located on the non-forest land and do not involve much Resettlement and Rehabilitation problems. However it’s effects due to stack emission etc, on flora and fauna, wild life sanctuaries and human life etc. have to be studied for any adverse effects. One of the serious effects of thermal power stations is land requirement for ash disposal and hazardous elements percolotation to ground water through ash disposal in ash ponds. Due to enormous quantity of ash content in India coal, approximately 1 Acre per MW of installed thermal capacity is required for ash disposal. According to the studies carried out by International consultants if this trend continues, by the year 2014-2015, 1000 sq. km of land should be required for ash disposal only.

Noise pollution

Some areas inside the plant will have noisy equipments such as crushers, belt conveyors, fans, pumps, milling plant, compressors, boiler, turbine etc. Various measures taken to reduce the noise generation and exposure of workers to high noise levels in the plant area will generally include:

Silencers of fans, compressors, steam safety valves etc.
Using noise absorbent materials
Providing noise barriers for various areas
Noise proof control rooms
Provision of green belt around the plant will further reduce noise levels


Clean coal technologies

Clean coal technologies offer the potential for significant reduction in the environmental emissions when used for power generation. These technologies may be utilised in new as well as existing plants and are therefore, an effective way of reducing emissions in the coal fired generating units. Several of these systems are not only very effective in reducing SOx and NOx emissions but, because of their higher efficiencies they also emit lower amount of CO2 per unit of power produced. CCT’s can be used to reduce dependence on foreign oil and to make use of a wide variety of coal available.

Blending of various grades of raw coal along with beneficiation shall ensure consistancy in quality of coal to the utility boilers. This approach assumes greater relevance in case of multiple grades of coals available in different parts of the country and also coals of different qualities being imported by IPPs. Ministry of Environment and Forests vide their notification dated 30th June 1998 had stipulated the use of raw or blended or beneficiated coal with an ash content not more than 34% on an annual average basis w. e. f. 1st June 2001.

CPCB has constituted a Steering Committee consisting representative from some SEBs, CPCB, Ministry of Coal, Ministry of Power, CEA and World Bank to carry out cost benefit analysis of using clean coal technologies and assess and prioritize technically feasible and economically viable measures to improve coal quality.

Refurbishment of existing thermal power stations

Continuous deterioration in performance of thermal power stations had been observed during early 80′s. Therefore, Renovation and Modernisation Schemes(R&M Schemes) were drawn and executed for improving the performance of existing thermal power stations. Pollution control measures in these power stations being a capital-intensive activity, it accounted for major portion-around 40% of Rs. 12 Billion kept for R&M schemes under phase-I. During phase-I, 163 units of 34 thermal power stations were covered. As a result of R&M schemes these achieved 10,000 million units of additional generation per annum against the target of 7000 million units. Encouraged by the results achieved, R&M phase-II programme is presently under progress. Total estimated cost of these works is Rs. 24 Billion. Most of the Electricity Boards or other generating agencies are facing financial constraints to carry out R&M activities. Therefore, this area has to be taken on priority to arrange financial assistance.

2 Responses to History of Indian Power Sector

  1. its very nice. i want information of energy under five year plan of our nation. is it possible means reply to my email id ve_suresh@yahoo.co.in says:

    Excellent collection of information

  2. Kory says:

    Good points all aronud. Truly appreciated.

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