Why is the government in the business of electricity?

A few days back, when I got home, there was no power. It was not unusual. Though we've not been having scheduled power cuts, a one-off power cut such as this was not surprising at all. The power however was not restored for almost three hours. My parents and brother were also home by then. We checked with our neighbours. Everyone had power. It was only our house that did not have power. Now, this was unusual.

I checked the main circuit boards. Nothing had tripped. I also confirmed with my father that the electricity bill had been paid. Then why did we alone not have power?

It was nearing eight in the evening. We called the electricity board's complaint number and made a complaint. They gave us a complaint number. Those in Hyderabad or familiar with the city know the value of that complaint number. Close to zilch.

We then got the number of the sub station of our area. We called the number and spoke to someone there and explained the problem. We told him that we really needed the power to be restored asap. We also added 'Aapko khush kar denge' (we will make you happy) at the end. You might actually squirm on reading this but please understand that nothing would have happened if we did not promise him this. I would have to miss my dialysis session as a result.

Two people from the sub station arrived in ten minutes. They checked everything. In the house everything seemed to be all right. They then went to the pole from where we got our power and found the problem. They returned to tell us. There had apparently been some repairs that were carried out that evening. The technicians had not reconnected our connection to the mains!! Can you beat that? Had they forgotten? Why did they not reconnect it? These guys had no idea.

I asked them to connect the lines then. They said they could not do it. It could be done only the next morning. I would have to skip dialysis, I thought. Which is not such a bad thing especially since I was on daily nocturnal. But one of the guys suggested that they could put a temporary hack in place which would give us power till the next morning when the actual line would be connected. We asked him to go ahead after assuring ourselves that this did not pose any risk.

Within half an hour, the power was restored. We had to shell out seven hundred rupees for some wire and making the guys 'khush'.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Why is the government really in the business of providing electricity to the people? Isn't this best left to the private sector? It was like this in telecommunications too. The moment private companies were allowed entry there was a huge improvement in quality. Today, even though there are government companies in the telecom sector, there is a big difference in quality and customer service when you compare with private operators.

I really feel that power should be opened up to the private sector. Only then will see any improvement in service.


Vikram said…
The government honestly should not be in the business of providing any services!
Anonymous said…
Nice post. It is fashionable these days to say that Government should not be in service business. We copy USA and it makes sense that electricity, telephones and transport- all should be given to private sector. Sounds nice!

However unlike USA, India is not a country of settlers. There are people in every corner of the country who have been there for decades. It is the Government's responsibility to provide all the citizens of this country with all facilities. Let us take the example of some small villages that are in the remote corner of our country. What incentive will the private sector have to provide electricity or telephone or transport to these people? If it is USA, you can just say 'it is not cost effective to provide services to you all. So just move of your village’. But in India people have lived for years and it is just not possible to move them out. No one other than the Government will have an incentive to provide services for villages.

So does it mean that we should we accept lethargy on the part of Government sector? No. We need to ensure efficiency in the Government sector. And IT IS POSSIBLE. It is not that only private sector can ensure efficiency.

Taking the example of electricity- should we have 24 hours power supply for few people and 20 hours (again, for example) power supply for the rest or should we have 22 hours of power supply for the entire population- well that is a philosophical question!
Kamal D Shah said…
I totally agree with you, Anonymous, that only the government is best placed to ensure that the villages and the remote corners of the country get electricity.

However, is it effective at all? How many hours do the farmers get electricity? Are they happy with the supply? Is it good enough?

Look at the telecom sector. We have both government and private players. Why can't we adopt that model in things like electricity as well? Give the consumer a choice.
Privatization should be the option to improve the quality of the services. This induces some competitive spirit among the runners and thus improving the countries infrastructure to world class standards.