Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 01 February 2024

Problems with India's Discoms Privatization

Relevance: GS III

  • Prelims: Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS); Electricity Production in India;
  • Mains: Privatization; Infrastructure and Indian Economy;

Why in the News?

While Indian electricity transmission infrastructure has responded to match increased generation capacity, the power distribution sector still lags.


  • India has made significant progress in electrification, aiming to provide 100% electrification, and becoming the world's third largest producer and consumer of electricity
  • The government has taken measures to improve the efficiency of state-owned Power Distribution Companies (Discoms), but privately owned discoms still outperform the sector average in power distribution.

Significance of Discoms and their performance:

  • The distribution sector is crucial in the electricity value chain, and the onus of cost recovery for the entire sector lays with discoms
  • The Indian government has taken measures to improve the efficiency of state-owned discoms, and private discoms have been ahead in most key parameters. 
    • Programmes such as the ongoing Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS), which aims to infuse $35 billion into the sector over five years, have yielded benefits. 
    • There have been improvements in billing and collection efficiency, customer service, and supply reliability, and an overall reduction in Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses for state-owned discoms from 23 % to 17 % at the end of 2023.
  • However, private discoms cover only about 10% of the population in India, indicating room for growth. 
  • Investments in transmission may become all the more valuable as India adopts more renewable energy sources.


The potential benefits of involving the private sector in national power distribution in India are as follows: 

  • Economic Efficiency and Improved Service Quality: Private sector participation would serve the public interest through economic efficiency and improved service quality.
  • Greater Predictability to Consumer Tariffs: It would bring greater predictability to consumer tariffs by restricting tariff adjustments.
  • Encouragement of Competition: It is expected to provide improvement in efficiency and loss reduction by encouraging competition.
  • Innovation and Investment: Private sector involvement can bring in innovation, technology, and investment, leading to significant improvements in the distribution sector.
  • Financial Viability and Sustainable Growth: It can help in making the distribution sector financially viable, ensuring sustainable growth, and keeping consumer tariffs affordable.
  • Improved Infrastructure and Consumer Satisfaction: Private sector participation can significantly improve efficiency, infrastructure, and consumer satisfaction.

Involving the private sector in national power distribution in India is expected to bring about economic efficiency, improved service quality, greater predictability to consumer tariffs, and overall improvement in the distribution sector.

Inducing competition through new & old models (Previous Initiatives):

  • The push for privatization and competition in India's power sector is not without its challenges. 
  • While privatization is seen as a means to enable competition and improve efficiency, it is not a guaranteed solution. 
  • The introduction of competition is a key objective of the Electricity Act 2003, but privatization alone may not be sufficient to improve the efficiency of discoms. 
  • Historical experiences with Distribution Franchise (DF) models have shown that while they reduced losses significantly in most areas, they did not always meet their intended objectives and turned out to be unviable. 
    • For instance, the India Power Corporation Limited (IPCL) operated a DF in Bihar, significantly reducing losses and increasing revenue.

What are the Limitations?

  • Due to a poorly constructed contract and weak dispute resolution mechanisms, the DF model did not achieve the desired results. 
  • The political sensitivity of Discom privatization, resistance from stakeholders, financial stress on discoms, disputes over tariff structures, and the lack of a robust regulatory framework also highlight the challenges of privatization and competition in the power sector. 
  • Despite these challenges, the government aims to drive power sector reforms through increased competition and DISCOM privatization to boost the sector further. 

Way Forward for Sustainable Privatization in the discoms sector:

  • A robust regulatory framework, transparent contractual agreements, and a phased approach to implementation.
  • The Indian government continues to explore innovative models such as Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) and Distribution Franchise (DF) models, ensuring efficient service delivery and social impact.
  • Regulatory-based franchise model hinges on a robust regulatory framework that ensures transparency and fair competition and protects the interests of both consumers and franchisees.
  • Inducing competition through new and old models, such as distribution franchising, can benefit all stakeholders. 
  • Lessons from successful and failed privatization cases highlight the importance of a robust regulatory framework, transparent contractual agreements, and a phased approach to implementation. 


The road to discoms privatization has several challenges, including resistance from stakeholders, political interference, and disputes over tariff structures, to name a few. However, the government seems to be on the right path. A more focused approach to inducing competition – introducing new models and amending previously tried ones – will go a long way.


Mains PYQ

Q. Why is Public Private Partnership (PPP) required in infrastructural projects? Examine the role of PPP model in the redevelopment of Railway Stations in India. (UPSC 2022)

Q. Explain how Private Public Partnership arrangements, in long gestation infrastructure projects, can transfer unsustainable liabilities to the future. What arrangements need to be put in place to ensure that successive generations' capacities are not compromised? (UPSC 2014)

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