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Incomplete Story of the Political Economy of the Power Sector

Mapping Power: The Political Economy of Electricity in India’s States edited by Navroz K Dubash, Sunila S Kale and Ranjit Bharvirkar, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018; pp 400, 1,195.

The electricity sector in India has witnessed a lot of changes in the last three decades. As part of the process of economic liberalisation that began in 1991, the power sector was one of the first sectors of the economy to be “reformed.” The thrust of these reforms was to financially and institutionally restructure the power sector to end state monopoly by introducing private generators and distributors of electricity. Acc­ording to the World Bank, the provision of subsidies, operational inefficiencies, and technical and commercial losses in the sector were a result of state ownership and consequent political interference (World Bank 1991). And so, the state electricity boards that were at the forefront of building infrastructure and expanding access to electricity across the country in an earlier era were “un­bundled,” corporatised, and brought ­under the quasi-judicial oversight of a “depoliticised” independent regulator.

The book Mapping Power: The Political Economy of Electricity in India’s States, undertakes the important task of evaluating what happened of the ­reforms 30 years after they were int­roduced in the sector. The book provides detailed documentation of the experience of 15 states in the country over a period of 30 years. It is an arduous ­endeavour considering that the implementation as well as impacts have been different across states despite the incre­asing encroachment of the central government in a sector that is on the concurrent list. It presents interesting res­ults as well that point to an overall inability of any state to implement the full set of prescribed reforms, or the failure of reforms after they were implemented, which naturally leads to the question of why we see these outcomes.

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Updated On : 20th Oct, 2020

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