India’s infrastructure deficit is obvious to the first-time visitor as well as to those well-acquainted with the country.
From overstretched airports to heavily congested roads, power cuts and strained capacity at ports, India’s creaky infrastructure is in marked contrast to the rest of emerging Asia.
Time and cost overruns have been a major bane for India’s infrastructure projects. The government’s own data shows how inadequate capital, environmental concerns, law and order issues, equipment shortages, bad weather and delays in procedural clearances have resulted in major slippages in large projects.
As in April 2014, infrastructure projects worth more than Rs. 1,00,000 crore were stuck for want of regulatory and procedural approval. In some cases the delays ranged up to 16 years.
Scanty summer rains will likely spike power demand. Delayed monsoon rains can potentially dry out reservoirs, prompting hydro-stations to cut energy generation.
India has countered situations in the past when many power stations have had just about a week’s coal left to keep their furnaces burning to produce electricity.
Two years ago, north and east India faced the dubious distinction of waking 680 million people up in the middle of a harrowing mid-summer nightmare as the northern-grid had collapsed.
It took more than two days for the grid to start wheeling out power normally. Electricity, like water, flows from high-voltage areas to a lower one, unless, of course, a grid calibrates the surge.
The situation is analogous to a river that flows through many regions where states keep on diverting water to their parched regions. This eventually will dry out the river’s stretches on the lower riparian states.
Each state has a quota of power that it can draw from the grids. If it wants more power it has to place a demand for additional power and has to buy it at a much higher price. States are expected to stick to the drawn schedule and maintain what is called ‘grid discipline’.
Many states, as witnessed in August 2012, overdrew power from the grids, leading to their collapse.
Power blackouts aren’t really the type of events that any aspiring global economic superpower would showcase. Such blackouts and power failures will only fill up the sceptics’ quiver of arrows to run down the India growth story.
The cynicism is not just about highways, power stations, ports and airports, but more about India’s willingness to sustain high rates of growth and investment.
The power outages have dealt a telling blow to half of north India, including the seat of power, Delhi, which is already sweating while waiting restlessly for the rains for relief from a blazing summer.