Power Reforms And The Bengal Model

Power Reforms And The Bengal Model

Why do the lights go out more often in some Indian States than others? While India has recently seen great gains in generation capacity and rural electrification, many utilities are still trapped in a vicious cycle of underpayment, underinvestment, and dismal performance. The effects are huge: in 2010 the World Bank estimated the cost of electricity shortages at 7 per cent of India’s GDP.

This underperformance is not uniform. Constitutional responsibility for the crucial “last mile” of distribution to end consumers rests with State governments, creating substantial subnational variation. India’s federal system therefore offers a laboratory to explore what types of electricity reform work, and why.

This was the starting point for ‘Mapping Power’, a collaborative project that examined electricity governance across 15 major States, home to 87 per cent of India’s population. In 2016, we conducted 300 interviews with current and retired bureaucrats, politicians, regulators, industrialists, engineers, and consumer groups to “map” the history of power politics in each State. Looking across the 15 States, West Bengal emerged as an interesting case in two dimensions: reform design and political determinants of reform success, especially the effects of electoral (in)stability. Read More

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