June 7, 2013


Amid prices rise and power cuts in the Indian capital, and buck-passing between politicians and companies, can renewable power solve the city's energy problems?

By Kavitha Rao 
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal attends a public hearing called
by Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission on June 3, 2013 in New Delhi.
Photograph: Jasjeet Plaha/Getty Images
Delhi is in the midst of a power struggle, but not the political kind. The city is rapidly running out of energy, as government, opposition and private suppliers all bicker about who is to blame. In the past two years, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) has hiked power rates four times, by a whopping 26%, and another hike is expected, despite the fury of consumers. Meanwhile, many beleaguered Delhi residentssuffer eight-hour-long power cuts in 45 degree summer heat.

With local elections coming up in November, Chief Minister Sheila Dixit has been quick to shove the blame on to private distribution companies (known as "discoms"). The chief minister even wrote an angry letter to business tycoon Anil Ambani, the head of Reliance Infrastructure, which owns two of Delhi's biggest discoms. Somewhat belatedly, she directed him to fix the power crisis and ensure all-day electricity. Dixit admitted she was "shocked' to learn that the discoms owe dues amounting to nearly Rs 33 billion to the government (about £375 million).

But the government is no hapless innocent, claim opposition parties. Maverick activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal has alleged that the Delhi government is colluding with discoms to fudge losses, line their pockets and pass on costs to the consumers. The opposition Bhartiya Janata Party is also calling for an inquiry into the financial mismanagement of the discoms and demanding intervention by the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, as the government muddles along, green campaigners point out that Delhi has completely ignored other solutions. A recent report by Greenpeace India revealed Delhi's miserable failure to attain renewable energy targets. Delhi actually achieved less than 1% of its target, making it the worst performer amongst 22 states, despite being by far the wealthiest.

Part of the problem, says report author and senior Greenpeace campaigner Abhishek Pratap, is Delhi's cossetted status. "As the capital, Delhi gets 75% of its energy from coal plants in other states. This has made the city complacent, and slow to consider other alternatives. The DERC does not even have a proper policy for renewable energy," he points out.
The report also pointed out the growing inequity between rural and urban areas. Delhi consumes double the national average of electricity, while poorer states such as Bihar go short. Coal guzzling also comes at a huge environmental cost for the city, and the country, with India now on the brink of a public health crisis.

"This report is an indictment of the whole policy framework around renewables and the dismissive attitude of the government towards it," wrote Pratap in a stinging foreword, "Renewable power could have been a tool to bridge the demand-supply gap in the energy sector across the country. But the toothless mechanism combined with unambitious targets has failed to give any impetus to renewables in India."
Now, Delhi is belatedly scrambling for alternatives. Greenpeace believes solar energy is a good alternative for Delhi, given its nearly 350 sunny days a year. "People think solar energy needs a lot of land, but Delhi has plenty of roof space. It's not a vertical city like Mumbai; it's a radial city," says Pratap. Currently, no subsidies exist for solar users, and ignorance about solar alternatives means that very few Delhi households actually consider solar options.
But things may be changing. On June 3, Sheila Dixit opened a new solar project. "Our country is endowed with abundant natural sunshine. For our electricity needs, we should look towards the sun," said Dixit. These platitudes have been heard before though; about two years ago there was much talk about a renewable energy policy, but little action.

But this time around, with desperate times calling for desperate measures, Pratap expects some progress. Greenpeace is meeting with government officials this week to talk about a viable renewable energy policy, with incentives and support for discoms, and punitive measures to ensure compliance. Meanwhile, it has just launched a new campaign to mobilise public support for solar energy. "Delhi cannot depend on coal for energy any more, nor can it look to other states. If it does not consider renewable energy, the city will run out of power very soon," says Pratap. Ominous words. Is the Delhi government - and its public - listening?

The fact that police have the right to monitor the communications of all its citizens – in secret – is a classic hallmark of a state that fears freedom

The Guardian Editorial

A few months before he was first elected president in 2008, Barack Obama made a calculation that dismayed many of his ardent supporters but which he judged essential to maintain his drive to the White House. By backing President Bush's bill granting the US government wide new surveillance powers – including legal immunity for telecomscompanies which had co-operated with the Bush administration's post-9/11 programme of wiretapping without warrants – Mr Obama stepped back from an issue that had initially helped to define his candidacy but was now judged to threaten his national security credentials. It was a big call. Even so, it seems unlikely that either supporters or critics, or even Mr Obama himself, ever believed that five years later a re-elected President Obama would oversee an administration that stands accused of routinely snooping into the phone records of millions of Americans.

Yet that is the situation at the heart of the Guardian's exclusive story this week that America's immense National Security Agency is doing just this on Mr Obama's watch. The revelation that a secret order, issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, requires one of the largest telecoms providers in the US to provide a daily diet of millions of US phone records to the FBI, poses Americans with a major civil liberties challenge. Under the terms of the order, everything about every call made during a three month period – excepting only the calls' actual contents – is offered up to the bureau and the NSA on a gargantuan routine basis. It seems improbable that the order revealed yesterday is the only one of its kind. So the assumption has to be that this is the new normality of American state surveillance. The special courts set up to monitor and approve industrial data-harvesting appear to provide little check on the scale of the activity.

Few Americans believe that they live in a police state; indeed many would be outraged at the suggestion. Yet the everyday fact that the police have the right to monitor the communications of all its citizens – in secret – is a classic hallmark of a state that fears freedom as well as championing it. Ironically, the Guardian's revelations were published 69 years to the day since US and British soldiers launched the D-day invasion of Europe. The young Americans who fought their way up the Normandy beaches rightly believed they were helping free the world from a tyranny. They did not think that they were making it safe for their own rulers to take such sweeping powers as these over their descendants.
No one living in Britain should be naive about the reality of the terrorist threat against which such powers are deployed, least of all in the volatile aftermath of the Woolwich murder. Nor, in the light of the revelations from the US, ought we to be smug about the surveillance and data collection that goes on daily in our own midst too. By some readings, similar legal tools already exist here under the regulation of investigatory powers legislation. Both Conservative and Labour MPs have made clear they want new "snooper's charter" powers over email records. And western European security services, Britain's GCHQ monitoring agency in particular, have always regarded the ability to trade information with the US authorities as their life-blood.

But it is American civil liberties that are primarily in the spotlight now. Ever since 9/11, the US has allowed the war on terror to frame a new domestic authoritarianism that is strikingly at odds with America's passionate sense of its own freedom. This week's revelations have stunned millions of Americans whose justified outrage against 9/11 surely never led them to expect such routine and unrestrained surveillance on such a massive scale. US politicians have a poor post-9/11 record of confronting such powers. Even now, it is possible that many will look the other way. But this is an existential challenge to American freedom. That it has been so relentlessly prosecuted by a leader who once promised to stand up against such authority, makes the challenge more pressing, not less.