The new government’s 100-day action plan proposes a power sector council. Given power is a concurrent subject, and its interlinkages with other sectors, it would need a coordinated effort from the Centre and the states to bring about reforms and structural changes.
While the previous NDA government made a significant impact through its schemes—Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya), Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) and Unnat Jyoti by Affordable LEDs for All (UJALA)—it has an unfinished agenda to accomplish, for whose success the coordination between the Centre and the state governments would be critical. The government needs to continue to focus on addressing the sectoral stress, while implementing difficult structural reforms like the segregation of wires and content in order to bring in greater efficiency in the most critical part of the power sector value chain.
The results of a coordinated approach have already been demonstrated in the Saubhagya programme, in which the power ministry focussed on a coordinated approach with regular reviews by the power secretaries of all states. Another difficult structural reform—the roll-out of the goods and services tax (GST)—has been also largely successful due to the GST Council, which helped in driving consensus and implementation across India.
All this would need stronger coordination between the central government and the states. In this regard, a power sector council is a step in the right direction. While the suggested composition of this proposed council, with the Union power minister as the chair, and the Union finance minister and the power ministers of all the states as members, given the linkages with other sectors, it would make sense to also have the Union ministers of coal; Environment, forest and climate change; and new and renewable energy as additional members too, given the strong linkages and the issues that the sector faces around mining, generation, and the challenges around integration of the addition of 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy into India’s power system.
With electricity now having reached out to every part of the country by extending the central grid, the focus has to shift to providing quality and reliable supply to all these customers. This would require a focus on not only addressing the deteriorating financial health of the utilities (a fall out of the extensive electrification programme under Saubhagya, without strengthening the last mile services of metering, billing and collection, leading to discoms witnessing an increase in losses over the last 12-18 months), but in focusing on delivering on customer satisfaction. Recent studies have shown that customer service continues to be a huge challenge and area of neglect for all utilities. In order to make this happen, the government has to focus on distribution as it has on generation and transmission —viz., from a central level.
Chandan Mishra is senior director (energy services) at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power India.