From Gloom to Boom: Bihar’s Electricity Sector

By Zakaria Siddiqui
Regulatory Assistance Project
26 May 2017

Bihar symbolizes the worst of India. A very high incidence of poverty and low human development achievement are its hallmarks. However, recent trends show that Bihar’s economy is showing signs of improvement. The electricity sector has also seen significant progress since 2005, and more so after 2012. Since mass protests against the dismal performance of power delivery in the state in 2011, the government has been pumping huge sums of money into increasing the supply of and access to electricity.

This paper shows that the electricity sector’s performance is intimately linked to political context of the state. During the Lalu Yadav/Rabri Devi regime from 1990 to 2005, which was mainly supported by lower castes and Muslims, the economy stagnated and so did the electricity sector. This was a direct result of Yadav’s hostile attitude towards the bureaucracy and corporate sector. In his view, the upper-caste-dominated bureaucracy was the main reason for the continued impoverishment of the lower castes. After 2005, Nitish Kumar’s government, which came into being thanks to an alliance between upper castes and some lower castes that did not benefit much under Yadav’s regime, began to seriously explore bureaucratic solutions to improving various public services, such as education, roads, and electricity. The political and social empowerment of lower castes during Yadav’s rule has since made it difficult for any Bihar government to survive without addressing basic needs of the population at large. This is a clear deviation from previous governments, which remained immune to addressing people’s needs and which allowed most resources to routinely be appropriated by the upper castes.