Category: Urbanisation and Governance

The wide-ranging vulnerability induced by the current pandemic has heightened global interest in shock-responsive social protection (SRSP), i.e. adapting social protection (SP) for addressing the impacts of large-scale natural disasters, economic shocks, pandemics and political crises. Figure 1 shows the common SRSP strategies which policymakers can consider for addressing covariate shocks. 

Figure 1. Adapting social protection systems for crises

Until recently, India’s SP system was largely limited to the formal sector. While there is still a considerable degree of fragmentation and multiple federal schemes operate in silos, there is a growing policy recognition for consolidation and convergence backed by integrated systems.1 The last 15 years witnessed a growth in rights-based entitlements and systemic reforms to build a more inclusive system.2 These encompass the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) program, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Public Distribution System (PDS), National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and National Social Assistance Program (NSAP). These programs show a greater degree of institutionalization in terms of legal and/or policy backing, benefit design and implementation processes, resulting in improved coverage. 

The COVID-19 crisis has seen unique innovations involving piggybacking on India’s most extensive safety net, the PDS, for shock response, reiterating its relevance for SRSP. For instance, the Government of Bihar piggybacked on the PDS (although with challenges and swift course corrections)3 to provide a one-off transfer of Rs.1000 to ration-card holders during the COVID-19 crisis. This experience needs to be systematically documented, as it will play a crucial role in informing future preparedness actions. Similarly, Uttar Pradesh (UP)4 and Odisha5 piggybacked on the extensive network of fair price shops (FPS) to distribute food grains (in lieu of in-school cooked meals) to beneficiaries of MDM, while Delhi6 and Kerala7 used it to distribute ‘essential item kits’. Leveraging existing delivery systems helped save crucial time and reduce errors in distribution.

PDS also demonstrated flexibility by expanding vertically (topping up entitlements) and horizontally (increasing coverage). Entitlements for over 80 crore ration-card holders were doubled8 and eligibility was relaxed to include non-ration card holders 9 such as migrant workers10 and some families who are above the poverty line11. On March 26th, the government announced the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) for the period of April to June, further extended till November 2020, for providing free ration (5 kg of rice/wheat and 1 kg of pulses), in addition to the pre-existing entitlements of PDS beneficiaries12. Several states announced their own relief packages, which supplemented this quantity of ration and/or expanded the basket of items. 13,14 Under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, free rations were extended to migrants from May till August. The pandemic and the consequent exodus of migrants also hastened the speed of ensuring inter-state portability of ration cards through the ‘One Nation-One Ration Card’ (ONORC) approach, though challenges persist. 

Although the PDS played a critical role in alleviating the vulnerability induced by the pandemic, several inadequacies of the system were exposed as well. The challenges posed by the PDS need to be addressed in order to respond better to future crises. The most fundamental criticism of the current PDS regime is the exclusion of eligible beneficiaries. This exclusion is layered and hierarchical, shown in Figure 2. The use of outdated 2011 population census figures to determine the extent of the coverage of the scheme has excluded more than 100 million people from the system.15 The second layer of exclusion emanates from the mandate of linking Aadhaar with ration cards.16 Both these shortcomings represent the plight of vulnerable non-ration card holders who suffer disproportionately because of the difficulty in identifying them for delivering immediate relief. As the ONORC does not address the previous two layers of exclusion, it is plagued by their associated drawbacks too. 

Figure 2. The PDS Exclusion Hierarchy: Introducing ONORC without accompanying measures for addressing the deeper issues of large-scale exclusion is merely touching the tip of the iceberg 

Another welfare program that can learn from the PDS and respond better to future shocks is NREGS, which came to the rescue of many distressed workers in the wake of the widespread job losses induced by the current pandemic. 17  While this surge in demand resulted in significant expansion of the program, spatial mapping of the newly issued job cards across rural districts with their population shares of outmigration and poverty revealed substantial unmet demand. 18 At the same time, the lack of a national urban employment guarantee (UEG) scheme left the urban poor unprotec#srsp18ted. The long overdue UEG is finally under consideration19, and its timely implementation will bring urban informal workers within the ambit of wider crisis management. However, the success of both NREGS and UEG depends on the ability of the states to generate sufficient employment opportunities corresponding to the surging demand. Mobilizing local authorities for identifying such opportunities is a prerequisite to yield tangible results, especially during crises. Another important issue is that of inadequate compensation. NREGS wages are lower than the minimum wage for agriculture in many states.20 Times of crisis unquestionably demand a top-up over the guaranteed wage. The recent guidelines on streamlining NREGS wage payments21 is a welcome move, however, the government must still consider switching to cash payment during difficult times at least in remote areas. NREGS therefore presents a case for both horizontal and vertical expansion.

In conclusion, the detrimental consequences of delayed SP response22 witnessed during the current pandemic only strengthens the case for instituting an emergency response framework across these schemes to fast-track assistance deployment when it is needed the most. The starting point for making SP shock-responsive is to map existing SP systems in terms of their coverage, adequacy and comprehensiveness: to understand the reach of routine SP systems, their capacity to deliver relief adequately and the range of risks covered. An efficient way to do this is to transition from multiple independent program databases to an Integrated Social Protection Information System. Additionally, the shortcomings of existing systems that hinder effective coverage during crises demonstrate that successful adaptation of such systems for emergency response requires them to be resilient in the first place. Given that the case for short-term universalization of SP during a crisis rests on fiscal considerations and political will, ensuring minimum exclusion errors in identifying beneficiaries becomes the most effective strategy for increasing the resilience of existing SP systems and improving the coverage of SRSP systems. Flexible delivery mechanisms form yet another critical element of a resilient SP system. 

Adapting SP for accommodating the expanded pool of vulnerable population prompts the need for a National Social Registry backed by comprehensive and dynamic socio-economic data in order to cater to those outside the purview of routine SP (urban poor, migrants). Moreover, vulnerability and needs assessments23 can be leveraged to prioritise regions and households for better risk preparedness and response24. Expanding routine coverage in areas frequently affected by shocks along with appropriate monitoring and evaluation can serve as ideal pilot studies for iterative, evidence-based design tweaks. 

SRSP contingency framework must also be incorporated within the ambit of the formal policy, so that readily deployable Standard Operating Procedures are in place in times of need25. This includes an assessment of the fiscal space for shock response in terms of assessing alternative sources and channels of contingency financing26. A final ingredient of successful SRSP systems relates to a context driven approach. Decentralized decision-making enables policy response to be based on local context, which is extremely relevant for crisis management. Hence, states and their local governments need to be empowered, especially financially, and be involved in formulating SRSP as they know the ground realities and local vulnerabilities most thoroughly. 

The current context of COVID-19 has and will throw up many challenges, particularly by amplifying already existing inequalities. In these times, developing strong SRSP systems is paramount to mitigate such adverse impacts. 


1. The World Bank. (2019, February 20). Schemes to Systems: The Future of Social Protection in India.

2. Dreze, J. & Khera, R. (2017). Recent Social Security Initiatives in India. World Development, 98, 555-572.

3. Government of Bihar. (2020, May 8). Directions regarding monitoring of cash transfer Rs 1000 distribution under PDS ration card linking related issues. 

4. Bajpai, N. (2020, May 30). UP govt to disburse ration, food security allowance to school children.The New Indian Express.

5. Orissa Post. (2020, March 21). Odisha govt to provide MDM to students through PDS.

6. The Hindu. (2020, June 4). Not discriminating between ration and non-ration cardholders, govt. tells HC.

7. Joseph, A. T. (2020, April 6). How Kerala is feeding its 3.48 crore residents, migrants amid the COVID-19 lockdown. The Caravan.

8. Government of India. (2020, March 20). DO Letter F. No. l-212020 Desk (MDM).

9. Government of India. (2020, March 30). PRADHAN MANTRI GARIB KALVAN ANNA YOJANA – Additional allocation of foodgrains to all the beneficiaries covered under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) free of cost for a period of three months.

10. Government of India. (2020, May 15). Allocation of foodgrain to the migrants @ 5 kg per person per month for two months free of cost as part of Economic measures (Atma Nirbhar Bharat).

11. ANI. (2020, April 9). Gujarat to provide free ration to 60 lakh families amid COVID-19 lockdown. Business Standard. 

12. Ministry of Finance. (2020, March 26). Finance Minister announces Rs 1.70 Lakh Crore relief package under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for the poor to help them fight the battle against Corona Virus.

13. Telangana Today. (2020, March 22). Telangana Lockdown: 12 kg free rice per person, Rs 1,500 per family to be supplied for each white ration card.

14. Angad, A. (2020, May 15). Non-PDS card holders to foodgrains: Jharkhand fears problems in migrant aid. The Indian Express.

15. IndiaSpend. (2020, April 16). More than 100mn excluded from PDS as govt uses outdated Census 2011 data.


17. Bhalotia, S., Dhingra, S. & Kondirolli, F. (2020). City of Dreams no More: The Impact of Covid-19 on Urban Workers in India. Centre for Economic Performance, Paper No. 008.

18. Narayan, S., Oldiges, C. & Saha, S. (2020, December 1). Does workfare work? MNREGA during Covid-19. Ideas for India.

19. Bloomberg. (2020, September 12). India plans to extend rural jobs guarantee scheme to cities, to address urban unemployment. Financial Express.

20. Aggarwal, A. & Paikra, V. (2020, October 5). Why are MNREGA wages so low? Ideas for India.

21. Department of Rural Development & National Informatics Centre. (2019, December). Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on Streamlining MGNREGA Wage Payments.

22. Ghosh, J. (2020). A critique of the Indian government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Industrial and Business Economics, 47, 519–530.

23. O’Brien, C., Holmes R. and Scott, Z., with Barca, V. (2018) ‘Shock-Responsive Social Protection Systems Toolkit—Appraising the use of social protection in addressing largescale shocks’, Oxford Policy Management, Oxford, UK. 

24. Acharya, R. & Porwal, A. (2020). A vulnerability index for the management of and response to the COVID-19 epidemic in India: an ecological study. The Lancet Global Health, 8(9), 1142-1151. 

25. UNICEF. (2019, December). Programme Guidance: Strengthening Shock Responsive Social Protection Systems. 

26. O’Brien, C., Holmes R. and Scott, Z., with Barca, V. (2018) ‘Shock-Responsive Social Protection Systems Toolkit—Appraising the use of social protection in addressing largescale shocks’, Oxford Policy Management, Oxford, UK. 

The views expressed in the post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the ISPP Policy Review or the Indian School of Public Policy. Images via open source.

Editor: Samir Pius George
February 1, 2021


The power sector consists of five stakeholders- energy sources, power generators, transmitters, distributors, and consumers (figure 1). The draft National Electricity Plan 2016 projects that the peak demand at the end of 2021-22 would be 235 GW.1 As per the 2019 CRISIL report, India’s installed capacity of power generation is 344 GW. Produced electricity could only be transported to the region of demand if the transmission network is capable. The current transmission line capacity in India is 3.9 Lac km. It grew at a compound annual growth rate of 7.2% from 2012 to 2018.

Figure 1. Present structure of power sector, Source: “Overview of the power sector,” PRS report

The power generation capacity is sufficient, and the transmission capacity is rapidly growing, but the power distribution is the weakest link in the value chain. Since 1991, the power sector has seen several reforms to improve the status quo, but they failed to address the issue of the DISCOMs being in perpetual losses. The fundamental issue is that DISCOMs fund their operational losses by debt. As of March 2015, the state DISCOMs had accumulated outstanding debt of approximately ₹4.3 lakh crore and roughly ₹3.8 lakh crore losses.2 The government launched UDAY (Ujjwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana) to allow the states to help DISCOMs overcome these losses. The scheme helped the DISCOMs clear their books, but it did not resolve the loss accumulation’s fundamental issue. DISCOMs are in losses because of a substantial mismatch between fixed cost and the recovered fixed charges. The mismatch reflects due to the electricity consumption subsidy and the Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses. Electricity consumption subsidy is the largest share (49%) in India’s pie of total energy subsidies. In the financial year 2017-18, the total electricity consumption subsidy was ₹86400 crores.3

Table 1  Increase in main “direct” subsidies

The government subsidizes electricity for some consumers, such as metro rails, railways, and agriculture consumers. DISCOMs provide subsidized electricity to these consumers and get compensated by the government later. However, governments tend to delay payments, which creates a non-recovery of the fixed utility costs.

The central and state regulators (CERC and SERC) and the DISCOMs recover these ‘losses due to subsidies’ by cross-subsidizing the low-tariff users by increasing the variable charge of the high-tariff users. This practice increases the cost of electricity.

What is the fixed and variable charge?

The supply tariff (payable by the consumer) is divided into two categories: fixed charge and the variable charge. When the consumer books a connection, the DISCOM sanctions a specific load to that consumer. The fixed charge corresponds to that sanctioned load. Variable charge corresponds to the actual consumption of the consumer.

The fixed charge includes capacity charges payable to power generators, transmission charges, operation and maintenance expenses, depreciation, interest on loans, and equity return. The variable charge recovers the variable utility costs, such as the variable cost component of power purchase.

Looking at the power sector from the first principles

According to Shah and Kelkar, the state is an inefficient institution. They establish the fact by giving a law of unintended consequence, which causes the state inefficiency- “A government intervention that carries an intention to have a certain outcome will very often end up yielding a very different result.”4 Market freedom works well in producing goods and services efficiently. The state should intervene where the market fails to provide efficiency. The market fails when there is information asymmetry between the producer and the buyer, a monopoly in the market, any externality (non-negotiated outcomes) involved, or in the case of public good.5

An individual can be prohibited from consuming electricity (excludable), and its consumption by an individual affects the overall supply (rival). Since the production, transmission, and distribution of electricity are excludable and rival, therefore principally it should be produced, transmitted, and distributed by the market, i.e., the private players. There is no state intervention required until a market failure could be quantified in terms of externality (positive and negative), market monopoly by a private player, information asymmetry, and public good.

With the electricity act of 2003, the government tried to create a free market in the power sector. The intention was to harness market efficiency in the sector by inviting private players to create competition, negotiation, and choice. As per the power sector’s status quo, the government-owned utilities generate 54% of the total power. 92% of the transmission utilities are government-owned, and the government owns almost all the DISCOMs (distribution companies) except in Delhi, Mumbai, and in a few other cities.5 Hence the government did not succeed in their original intention.

For a free market to function, price control by the government distorts the supply and demand equilibrium as it creates a deadweight loss6 to the economy. A free market does not keep entry barriers, and the market mechanism decides the profit margins.

Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) and State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) regulates the tariffs of DISCOMs heavily. As per section 79 and section 86 of the electricity act 2003, CERC and SERC control the tariffs of the generation, transmission, and distribution companies and issue licenses for the market entry, fix trading margins, and specify the grid technology, and adjudicate upon the disputes.7

The case of state intervention in the power sector

Let us consider that there is no state. The market will have the responsibility to produce, transmit, and distribute the electricity. The state will then intervene through either financing or regulating the market. It should not produce because, in this sector, there is no public good. There are four possible market failures

1. Negative Externality: 64% of the electricity production in India is by coal-based thermal power plants (Source: Ministry of Power; PRS). The production of electricity by coal-based thermal power plants requires coal burning, which pollutes the air. Air pollution is a negative externality because there is a channel of influence between the polluter and the citizens that are not negotiated.

Since it is a market failure, the state should intervene. There are two modes of intervention that seems possible in this case:

a. Regulation and Tax mechanism: States can regulate the thermal power plants by putting stringent emission norms and imposing taxes on the plants’ amount of pollution. The tax may act as a disincentive to the polluters, and they will pollute less.

b. Create a pollution market: The state can limit the aggregate pollution that all the thermal plants can cumulatively make and make the emission tradable.

To understand the two interventions and their efficiency, let us create an oversimplified hypothetical scenario to understand the market mechanism. There are two power plants X and Y, with a production capacity of 2GW per year. Plant X pollutes 4 million tonnes of CO2 for the 2GW production, and plant Y pollutes 5.33 million tonnes of CO2 for the same production. A plant can earn $100 per GW per year. To safeguard the broader public health and reduce the pollution levels, the state put a ceiling on the amount of CO2 that a power plant can emit. As per the norms, a plant with a 2GW capacity can pollute up to 3 million tonnes per year. Under this regulation, the total power generation in the society would be 2.62GW (X=1.5GW and Y=1.12GW), assuming the proportional relation between emission and power produced. If the cost of pollution to society is $30 per million tonnes, then the overall capital generation would be $82 (X: $150-$90 and Y: $112-$90). The $30 will be charged from the power plants as the carbon tax.

Bringing the market mechanism (Concept of carbon trading): In our oversimplified hypothetical scenario, let us bring the market mechanism and analyze the results. Instead of a simple regulation-tax mechanism, the state decides to sell the total emission quota. The cost of 1 million tonnes is $30. Plant X a and Y bought their quota of 3 million tonnes each for $90. Plant Y knows that plant X has a capacity of 2GW. Hence it is in its interest to sell the quota of 1 million tonnes to plant X. After the trade, plant X will operate at its full capacity and over-pollute, whereas plant Y will under-pollute. The overall pollution will remain at 6 million tonnes. However, the overall capita generation in society would be $95 with the production of 2.75GW.

Tax collection is a costly affair. Tax collection is costly, therefore spending one rupee of the tax money is equivalent to spending three rupees.8 Even if $30 is charged as tax from each plant in the first method, the net value of the tax collected would be one-third of the total, i.e., $10 only.  In the method of carbon trading, this inefficiency is also removed.

2. Positive Externality: When the supply and demand are met, the market reaches an equilibrium price. However, there will still be a marginalized population left that will not be able to afford the electricity at the equilibrium price. Hence either there is less consumption or no consumption. The electricity consumption is directly proportional to the GDP. Access to power increases the overall production, nudges small scale manufacturers to enter the market, boosts the retail market of electrical appliances, and increases the standard of living. Hence there is a case of a positive externality.

Currently, the government provides subsidy and regulates supply tariff structure. This subsidy and regulation model creates complexity in tariff structures that lead to information asymmetry and decreases the overall efficiency of benefits.  Instead, it should use the method of direct benefit transfers to promote consumption. It is a low cost and a less intrusive method.

3. Information Asymmetry: In a free market, the power demand fluctuates frequently. The demand fluctuation depends on various factors like peak hours and seasons. Depending upon the fluctuating demand, market prices could vary. If there is a lack of transparency in these fluctuating prices, the DISCOMs may hide the information and overcharge the consumer. Without information about the price fluctuation in the public domain, the consumer will not know if the DISCOMs are overcharging it.

The government should intervene and monitor the market and make the information available in the public domain so that the consumer could decide to continue with the present service provider or move to another service provider.

4. Monopoly: The distribution business is the combination of content (electricity) and carriage (wires). A distribution company owns the wires in an area and supplies electricity purchased from the producer and drawn from the transmission. Such ownership of wires makes the DISCOM a monopoly in that area. As per the Electricity Act 2003, the consumer can choose a different DISCOM for the electricity supply. If the current DISCOM owns the wires, it will always overcharge the other DISCOM for using the wires. This capability-to-overcharge will give an edge to the wire owner to interfere in the pricing of its competitors. This edge will make the current service provider a monopoly. DISCOMs also tend to pose operational barriers and procedural delays/rejections when switching to other providers on unreasonable grounds.

A study commissioned by the Forum of Regulators in 2015 suggested the separation of content and carriage (C&C). Such separation will make the carriage a separate entity that can provide services to any DISCOM. The wire company will not get involved in the content business. This separation will rule out any possibility of a monopoly creation.

Stakeholders respond to the incentives in a free market. Individuals running the state-owned utilities behave in their best interest. The incentive for a government employee, in this case, is not to optimize the process to compete in the market as there is less and unfair competition. Moreover, substantial political intervention weakens the market further.

In a free market of private players, the incentive structure changes, and it brings competition and efficiency in the market. Below is the predicted incentive structure in the power market that is free and has minimum state intervention.

StakeholdersIncentiveExpected action in a competitive market
ProducerProduce up to its optimal capacity to maximize their profits.Maintain the demand by keeping the prices low and increase efficiency to compete in the market.
TransmissionWin more transmission contracts to survive the market.Keep transmission losses low and maintain the high capacity to maintain low transmission cost.
DISCOMMaximize the consumption of consumers and win more customersReduce outage by investing in technology like smart metering to monitor real-time consumption data. Minimize the tariffs to increase demand and consumption.

Figure 2 Incentive structure of the stakeholder in a free market (author’s analysis)

Atma-Nirbhar Package

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Atma Nirbhar package on May 12. It was indicated that this special economic package would be worth 20 lakh crores, which is approximately equal to 10% of the country’s GDP. The Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her subsequent conferences, unfolded the specifics of the interventions that the government is planning out of the relief package.

In the power sector, DISCOMs were given special attention, and the following interventions were announced:

1. Intervention: At present, the consumer bears the cost of the inefficiencies in various processes by the DISCOMS. However, as per the announcements, the DISCOMS would have to bear the cost of their inefficiencies. The government may come up with some penalty system for the DISCOMS for the inefficiencies such as load-shedding.8

This could prove as a needed intervention in the market. This is because due to these regulations, the DISCOMS would be disincentivized to use inefficient ways of distributions.

2. Intervention: The government has planned to remove the regulatory asset funds that were provided to the distribution companies.

3. Intervention: It is planned that the distribution companies would be provided the monetary support (liquid) of approximately 90,000 crores. This extra support is given so that the distribution companies could be relieved from the power GENCOS’s liabilities.

This could be a short-term plan but would remain ineffective. Earlier, the government has tried many times to de-burden the DISCOMs but failed in the longer run. This is because we need to develop more freedom in the sector and inscribe it in the Electricity Act 2003.

4. Intervention: The government has decided to privatize the distribution companies in the union territories.

This intervention is needed but not sufficient. Privatization brings market freedom. Even the Electricity Act of 2003 proposes an open market competition. Still, we see that the market mechanism is not functioning as per its full potential. Removing the government’s market monopoly in the market economy is essential, but still, there is a chance of the creation of other kinds of monopolies due to the non-separation of carriers and content. Hence there could be two ways forward:

a. The carrier and content entities should be distinct and different in the power distribution market.

b. The privatization of DISCOMs must be done in all states.


Electricity to the country is like blood to the body. The more efficiently it circulates, more will be the growth of the economy. Unfortunately, the circulation system of electricity is cluttered. India claims to have achieved 100%9 electrification that provides the necessary infrastructure for electricity reach in the country’s remotest part. With the installed capacity of 324GW and demand of the only 270GW, India sits on a surplus production capacity of 54GW per year.

Nevertheless, we have power outages, and DISCOMs are in loss. 17 years ago, the country opened her market for competition, but still, we have a government monopoly in production, transmission, and distribution of the power sector. With the non-alignment of incentives and open yet restricted private players’ entry, the current power structure will continue to disappoint. Even after 73 years of independence and 17 years of significant policy reforms in the sector, many see electricity as a rare and expensive commodity.

The power sector is like a broken machine, and the reforms are acting like a repair or replacement of a broken part. We need to change the entire machine. John Maynard Keynes said that “The important thing for government is not to things which individuals are doing already, and do them a little better or a little worse, but to those things which at present are not done at all.” State intervention is justified only in the zone of market failures. The state should not get involved in either production, transmission, or distribution of power. The first policy problem is to establish a system where the market can work with freedom. The second policy problem would be market failures. The state has a huge role to play in the market failures in the power sector. It must remove the externalities by regulating the market and giving the freedom for carbon trading to prosper. Removing information asymmetry and breaking monopolies will increase efficiency and produce more utility for society.


  1. CRISIL Infrastructure Advisory. (2019). Diagnostic study of the power distribution sector. Niti Aayog, Government of India.
  2. UDAY (Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana). (2015, November 5). Financial Turnaround of Power Distribution Companies. Press Information Bureau, Government of India.
  3. Soman, A. (2018). India’s Energy Transition: Subsidies for Fossil Fuels and Renewable Energy. International Institute for Sustainable Development.
  4.  Kelkar, V., & Shah, A. (2019). In Service of the Republic. Penguin Random House India.
  5. Mishra, P. (2012, 9). OVERVIEW OF THE POWER SECTOR. PRS Legislative Research.
  6. Samuelson, P. A. (n.d.). Economics (19th ed.). McGraw Hill Education (India) Private Limited.
  7. Ministry of Law and Justice. (2003, June 2). The Electricity Act, 2003 [No.36 of 2003]. Cercind.
  8. Kumar, A. (2020, May 20). Summary of announcements: Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan. PRS Committee Reports.
  9. Choudhary, A. (2018, November 13). Modi’s village electrification is among world’s biggest successes this year, says this report. The Financial Express.

The views expressed in the post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the ISPP Policy Review or the Indian School of Public Policy. Images via open source.

In conversation with Paavi Kulshreshth, Commissioning Editor at ISPP Policy Review, Srikanth Viswanathan, Chief Executive Officer of Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, talks about some of the biggest urbanisation challenges and opportunities that India is likely to witness in the years to come. This interview was recorded in December 2020.

Editor: Lakshmi Ravi
June 11, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has uncovered glaring vulnerabilities in the urban design frameworks and law enforcement mechanisms of cities and other townships in India. The Epidemic Diseases Act has enabled a brutal lockdown by law enforcement authorities across states even as social distancing has remained elusive in urban townships due to the inherent design flaws and population density. Dr. Shiben Banerji, Professor for art history and urban design at the Art Institute of Chicago, in a wide-ranging conversation with Taarush Kishore Jain, explores these themes, citing examples of Kerala and Dharavi to elucidate his opinions. He also shares his sentiments on the mass communication campaigns by the Prime Minister during the lockdown and suggests modifications to the Centre-State relationship in India.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has exposed several fault lines in the urban design frameworks and law enforcement mechanisms of cities and other townships in India. The Epidemic Diseases Act has enabled a brutal lockdown by law enforcement authorities across states even as social distancing has remained elusive in urban townships due to the inherent design flaws exacerbated by the population density. Dr. Shiben Banerji, Professor of Art History and Urban Design at the Art Institute of Chicago, explores these themes in a conversation with Taarush Kishore Jain. He also shares his sentiments on the mass communication campaigns by the Indian Prime Minister during the lockdown and suggests modifications to the Centre-State relationship in India.

Editor: Lakshmi Ravi
May 18, 2020
As COVID-19 tightens its grip on Indian cities and reveals fault lines in the structures of governance, the details of the draft NUP warrant a close examination in terms of what needs to be done to design cities better. In this podcast, Shreeradha Mishra, Editor-in-Chief at ISPP Policy Review discusses the salience of the draft NUP in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and explores questions on how cities can be made more inclusive for the most vulnerable, with Dr. Ravikant Joshi, Advisor at the Urban Management Centre, Ahmedabad.

The Union government proposed India’s first National Urban Policy (NUP) framework in March 2018. The rationale behind the draft NUP was to frame a comprehensive national policy for India’s plans to facilitate sustainable and inclusive urbanisation. As COVID-19 tightens its grip on Indian cities and reveals fault lines in the structures of governance, the details of the draft NUP warrant a close examination in terms of what needs to be done to design cities better. In this podcast, Shreeradha Mishra, Editor-in-Chief at ISPP Policy Review discusses the salience of the draft NUP in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and explores questions on how cities can be made more inclusive for the most vulnerable, with Dr. Ravikant Joshi, Advisor at the Urban Management Centre, Ahmedabad.

This podcast has been edited by Lakshmi Ravi, with inputs from Arindam Upmanyu. 

April 30, 2020
In the global effort to mitigate climate change, India is set to play a significant, if not leading, role. In this article, Kartik explores where the country's decarbonization efforts stand right now and what it'll take to build a carbon-neutral power grid.

Climate change mitigation is a wicked problem to solve.1 Beyond the scientific question of how to limit carbon emissions and reduce polluting waste, it is also a moral question of who must lead this movement, who is most responsible for it, and who is likely to suffer the worst consequences. It is a problem encompassing complex international relations, nuanced differences in economic systems, and varying cultural lifestyles.2

India, in that context, presents an interesting paradox. Although it is a developing country with a fifth of its population (~about 270 million people) living in extreme poverty, it is already the world’s 3rd largest carbon emitter.3 The nation contributes to over 7 percent of global emissions, after China and the United States, both of which rank significantly above India on the United Nations Human Development Index chart.4,5

Figure 1: Carbon Emissions Split By Country

(Source: Union of Concerned Scientists)

Figure 2: Increase in Per Capita Power Consumption with Improvements in HDI

(Source: OurEnergyPolicy.Org)

A growing economy promises to a quarter of a billion people the status of the middle class, thereby creating energy demands leading to skyrocketing emissions.6 There is a moral equity case to be made for allowing India to achieve economic expansion through fossil fuel-driven growth similar to other developing nations as they enter the realm of prosperity.7 The planet, however, may not have enough time to recover if such a scenario is allowed to play out. Decarbonizing India’s power sector in that context holds a global significance in the fight against climate change8, given that electricity is the single most significant contributor to global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (electricity contributes to 66 percent of global emissions).9 It would seem unfair that the burden of saving the world’s climate has fallen on a nation failing to make ends meet for a significant portion of its population. However, India has not only lived up to these expectations but has also played a crucial part in a global fight against climate change.

Here is where India’s decarbonization efforts stand right now:

There’s more renewable energy in the Indian grid than one expects, with solar power outperforming other sectors.

Clean energy has always had a sense of Tomorrowism attached to it. Tomorrowism is a sort of skeptic optimism about an event that one believes is bound to happen, but will most likely occur glacially. In a survey of people quizzed for the due diligence of this article, 9 out of 10 individuals believed that there was less than 5 percent renewable energy in India’s power grid. However, the reality is brighter.

In 2010, India’s installed solar capacity was only 0.006 percent of its total generation capacity. Over the last ten years, solar’s installation has outpaced every single energy source in the Indian power grid, and solar alone now makes up 11 percent of the energy mix.

Figure 3: Increase in Share of Solar Energy Capacity in India (2010 – 2020)

(Source: Author’s Analysis, Power Ministry of India Data)

Solar energy sources, along with other clean sources like wind, biofuels, nuclear, hydro (large and small), and geothermal account for a sizable figure of 37 percent penetration of clean sources in the grid.10

Points scored

Figure 4: India’s Power Generation Capacity 2020

(Source: Author’s Analysis, Power Ministry of India Data)

Increasing clean energy sources has been successful due to several policy interventions.

In 2010, India launched the National Solar Mission with the sole aim of making India a global leader in solar energy. The mission set out an audacious target of a 2000X increase in solar energy over a period of 12 years, which would have totaled up to 20 Giga Watt (GW) by 2022. India is not a country famous for meeting its ambitious targets, but in this case, not only did India meet its targets, it did so a full four years ahead of schedule, in 2018.11

Several opportune market conditions supported this ambitious target:

  1. Cheap Labour
  2. Cheap Land
  3. Cheap Solar Modules

India had always had cheap land and labour but achieving cost-competitive solar panels required smart incentives, and a foreign policy that took advantage of China’s manufacturing prowess. China had figured out cheap solar modules in the early 2010s. Still, the west slapped anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese modules, hampering their growing production and further research and development (R&D), creating the perfect market conditions for chinese players to look to India as a growth market. This mix of cheap Indian land and labour, combined with cheap Chinese solar modules created the economic foundations required for a developing country to adopt renewable energy.12

As the Government of India’s 20 GW target seemed within reach, the government moved the goal post forward towards a more ambitious future – 175 GW clean energy by 2022 (Out of which 100 GW would be solar).13 The target was further moved up to a 500 GW target by 2030 (which would be roughly 50 percent of our total capacity) in June last year when there was a promising uptick in deployment.14 This progressive intent of government reflects the determination towards decarbonization, putting the clean energy requirement on an exponentially improving trajectory.

However, long term challenges remain with technology

Even though India’s grid could be 50 percent clean by 2030, the fact that the entire pie will grow (as a result of a growing economy) means the addition of  100 GW of fossil fuel-based generation.15 A net positive increase in the carbon emissions would do the planet no good even if it benefits India’s image in the global scenario. This raises the question of whether this net positive increase in carbon emissions could be eliminated by replacing all upcoming thermal plants through an even more aggressive clean energy policy.

The answer is again, wicked. Most clean energy sources are intermittent, which destabilize the grid because they fluctuate hourly, daily, and even seasonally. For, e.g., the entire output of a solar plant can fall from its capacity (say 100 MW) to zero if a sufficiently dense cloud passes over it – imagine what might happen during the monsoons if solar accounted for 30-40% of the national capacity. This is why thermal plants, technologically speaking, are still required: their ability to generate firm dispatchable power on demand, is a desirable characteristic for all generation sources.16

This is interesting, especially when looked at in the context of the demise of nuclear energy, which was once touted as the clean replacement for coal. Even though nuclear plants can produce zero-emission firm power and have gained scientific support for safety, they are still politically and culturally discarded as threats to humanity. A human tendency for negativity bias and lack of political efforts to reorient the societal view around nuclear energy is, therefore, likely to prevent the re-commercialization of the technology in the near future.17

One promising solution to intermittency is energy storage (like the lithium-ion batteries that Elon Musk’s Giga factories produce). However, most options are still nascent and costly. Signs are positive on the cost curve; yet, just last month, my team at ReNew Power won a government of India project where our hybrid (solar and wind) + battery storage power price (i.e., firm power) was cheaper than coal.18 With costs falling, energy storage is poised to play a considerable part in the future of the Indian grid, but India’s agility in being able to scale this technology still remains uncertain.19

India’s power policy needs restructuring

Power in India continues to be a state issue implying that regardless of the center’s sizeable clean energy targets, there is no binding mandate for states to execute them, which more often than not results in inconsistent policies that inhibit investment. Andhra Pradesh, for instance, canceled several PPA (Power Purchase Agreements) with clean energy projects in the state last year. This resulted in $40 Billion worth of investments put at risk because of a change in political administration in the state.20

Secondly, India’s distribution companies (DISCOMS) that buy electricity from power generating  enterprises in order to sell it to end consumers are in tremendous debt, about $740 Billion of it (~1/4th of National GDP).21 This has happened because DISCOMs are mandated to supply free electricity to the agriculture sector (size of the loss-making segment cannot be estimated because energy supplied is not metered). There is a hard cap on the price that DISCOMS are allowed to charge residential consumers. Further, power theft in India continues to be a pressing concern with complicated local transmission systems being highly susceptible to external breaches. While both agriculture and residential power policies remain valid instruments of state support for a poor population, there may be some value in thinking of alternatives to ensure financial sustainability.22

There is, however, a case for hope.

It is evident that there has been significant progress in decarbonizing the Indian power grid, and the government of India has shown serious intent in pursuing this goal with its considerable mandates. Still, several technological and policy challenges are likely to be major roadblocks in this project. Intermittency requires resolution, the energy storage industry needs promotion, nuclear energy needs rethinking as an option, and India’s power market requires restructuring for long term administrative and financial sustainability. The work ahead is immense, and it is easy to lose hope at the size of the challenge. Still, we must not forget that India has inertia and momentum on its side. In essence, India has already begun the decarbonization process, the market is sufficiently mature, most stakeholders across the chain are aligned on the goals, and the share of renewables in its grid is growing. This was no easy feat for a nation of India’s size, which quite rightly also had other pressing priorities but has, even then, chosen to participate and lead in this planetary battle. India will likely achieve its 2030 – 50 percent clean energy target. If trends are to be believed, it is also possible that an even more ambitious goal will supplant this goal as the tide continues to shift in favor of renewable sources. If the right factors work out at just the right time, India might perhaps become one of the first major economies to achieve a carbon-neutral grid, and only the fact that this possibility exists for a nation such as ours is a case enough for hope.

[1] Murtugudde, Raghu. “10 Reasons Why Climate Change Is a ‘Wicked’ Problem.” The Wire, December 11, 2019.

[2] Underdal, Arid. “Climate Change and International Relations (After Kyoto).” Annual Review of Political Science, May 2017.

[3] “India’s Poverty Profile,” World Bank (World Bank, May 27, 2016),

[4] “Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Union of Concerned Scientists, October 10, 2019.

[5] “Human Development Reports.” | Human Development Reports. Accessed April 13, 2020.

[6] IEA (2019), World Energy Outlook 2019, IEA, Paris

[7] NJ Ayuk. “A Boycott of Fossil Fuel in Africa Would Be Misguided. Here’s Why.” World Economic Forum. World Economic Forum, January 19, 2019.

[8] Gulati, Kartik. “Why India and China’s Energy Strategy Holds the Key to Our Planet’s Future.” Medium. Medium, July 25, 2019.

[9] IEA (2019), World Energy Outlook 2019, IEA, Paris 

[10] “Policies and Publications.” Ministry of Power. Accessed April 13, 2020.

[11] TNN. “India Hits 20GW Solar Capacity Milestone.” The Economic Times. Economic Times, January 31, 2018.

[12] Pickerel, Kelly. “It’s Official: Chinese Solar Cells and Modules Hit with Additional 25% Tariff.” Solar Power World, August 8, 2018.

[13] A target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by the year 2022. MNRE, July 19, 2018.

[14] Varadhan, Sudarshan. “India Plans to Add 500 GW Renewable Energy by 2030: Government.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, June 25, 2019.

[15] Jaiswal, Anjali. “Transitioning India’s Economy to Clean Energy.” NRDC, November 6, 2019.

[16] Llana, Karen. “Renewable Energy Intermittency: Realistic Solutions for Asia.” Pöyry global, December 18, 2018.

[17] Shellenberger, Michael. “If Nuclear Power Is So Safe, Why Are We So Afraid Of It?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, September 6, 2018.

[18] Parikh, Anjana. “Greenko, ReNew Win SECI’s 1.2 GW Solar, Wind Auction with Storage for Peak Power Supply.” Mercom India, February 9, 2020.

[19] Llana, Karen. “Renewable Energy Intermittency: Realistic Solutions for Asia.” Pöyry global, December 18, 2018.

[20] Shah, Kashish. “$40 Billion of Renewable Energy Investments at Risk in Andhra – Opinion by Kashish Shah: ET EnergyWorld.” ETEnergyworld, August 7, 2019.

[21] Silver, Caleb. “The Top 20 Economies in the World.” Investopedia. Investopedia, April 17, 2020.

[22] Thomas, Tanya. “Discom Debt to Swing Back to Pre-UDAY Level of ₹2.6 Lakh Crore in FY20: Crisil.” Livemint. Livemint, May 6, 2019.

April 5, 2020
Access to energy is a vital input in the socio-economic development of nations. While villages are considered the unit to be served, Governments electrification efforts have focused on the households, possibly rightly so. However, household electrification is just one aspect of improving rural energy access and hence socio-economic development. India resides in the villages, with more than 60% population in villages, having agriculture as their primary source of livelihoods. With 100% household electrification target having being met, future electrification efforts should be recalibrated. In this piece, Prodyut Mukerjee looks at what the Indian State has done so far and what it's future strategy should focus.

A Look at Milestones in Rural Electrification 

Access to energy is a vital input in the socio-economic development of nations. Food shortages marked the decades after independence due to inadequate agriculture production, which largely depended on successful monsoons. To increase the area under irrigation, which had been the focus in the first two Five Year Plans, the Government of India (GoI) established the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) in 1969, whose primary purpose was to support grid-connected irrigation pump sets. Then in 1974, the Minimum Needs Programme (MNP) was launched to enhance access to electricity services in rural areas. All subsequent programmes focused on universalizing access to electricity. For instance, the Kutir Jyoti Programme launched in 1988-89 aimed at improving the quality of life of the poorest households by providing single-point connections. 

Until1997, the definition of an electrified village was ‘a village where electricity is being used within its revenue area for any purpose whatsoever.’ The electrified village was later defined as ‘a village where electricity is used in the inhabited locality, within the revenue boundary of the village for any purpose whatsoever.’ This definition was in practice until the year 2004. In 2000-01, GoI launched the Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana and added a rural electrification component the following year. The period 2003-04 witnessed the launch of the Accelerated Rural Electrification Programme. The next year, this programme was merged with the Kutir Jyoti Programme to form Accelerated Electrification of one lakh villages and one crore households. This brought into focus the importance of household electrification within the ambit of village electrification. To deepen village electrification, GoI in 2004 expanded the definition of an electrified village to be a village where:

  • Basic infrastructure such as distribution transformers and distribution lines are provided in the inhabited locality. 
  • Electricity is provided to public places like schools, Panchayat office, health centres, community centres, etc
  • The number of households electrified should be at least 10% of the total number of households in the village. 

Consequently, in 2005 all the then ongoing schemes/programmes on rural electrification were merged into Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyuti Karan Yojana (RGGVY). The focus of RGGVY was to create a backbone of rural electricity supply; however, it came at the risk of being extensive (number of villages electrified) rather than intensive (% of households covered)[1]. Interestingly, RGGVY had a component on Decentralized Distributed Generation (DDG) for remote villages where grid connectivity was either not feasible or not cost-effective. This was the first time that the Ministry of Power, which has always been anchoring rural electrification programmes, and MNRE jointly assumed responsibility of providing electricity to remote hamlets/villages through renewable energy technologies. MNRE had also been running Remote Village Electrification Progamme (RVEP) and Village Energy Security Programme (VESP) through the State Nodal Agencies (SNAs). 

In 2014, GoI launched the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). The new scheme, in addition to the rural electrification component of RGGVY, had additional components on the separation of agriculture and non-agriculture feeder separation and further strengthening/augmentation of transmission and distribution infrastructure in rural areas, thereby subsuming RGGVY.[2]Additionally, GoI in September 2017 launched the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana or Saubhagya, targeting 100% household electrification of all interested households, estimated at three crores[3]. This target was achieved in April 2019. 

Currently, the grid is omnipresent, its benefits being harnessed across habitations. However, the supply of electricity to households is not 100%, and frequent power cuts/load shedding is a common phenomenon in most parts of the country. Furthermore, the quality of power delivered remains an issue, especially at the tail ends where there are voltage fluctuations and drops. This scenario and the current Electricity Act, present a unique opportunity for a range of stakeholders to generate power and feed into the grid. New and innovative business models can emerge, which could have large scale and long term impacts on the structure of the power sector in the country.

Looking beyond household electrification

While villages are considered the unit to be served, the electrification efforts by the government have focused on the households, possibly rightly so. The unit of analysis for both grid and off-grid electrification programmes has been villages, specifically households organized in the form of hamlets. That is, the overall village area, including the cultivatable area, is not taken into account, only the households. The DISCOMs also take this view in extending the grid to the households. However, household electrification is just one aspect of improving rural energy access and hence socio-economic development. India resides in the villages, with more than 60% population in villages, having agriculture as their primary source of livelihoods. 

The State’s future strategy should focus on the provision of power in the required quantity and quality for socio-economic development. In developing such a strategy, the following aspects should be kept in mind.

Sustainable Development Goals 

Following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), UNDP developed Sustainable Development Goals in 2016, focusing on poverty alleviation, democratic governance and peacebuilding, climate change and disaster risk, and economic inequality. Although MDGs did not explicitly mention access to clean and sustainable energy access to clean, it was understood that energy cuts across all themes and hence is a cross-cutting input in meeting the MDGs. To renew the focus on access to clean and sustainable energy, the SDGs have a specific goal for the same. 

SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.

Although there is now a separate SDG, energy remains a crucial input in attaining a majority of the SDGs. For example, if populations remain energy-poor, then the attainment of SDG 1 is not possible as energy is a critical input in livelihood enhancement and strengthening. Similar linkages can be easily established between SDG 7 and the other SDGs.

Decentralised Renewable Energy and Distributed Energy Resources

The power sector in the country is centralised in its structure with the generation of tens or hundreds of MW happening at centralized locations and high voltage power sent across towards load centres through transmission networks. The DISCOMs/SEBs take this, stepped down, and supply to consumers. This system has its challenges like locating generating stations closer to fuel sources, transporting fuels from source to generating stations, creating the transmission network, etc. It also has large scale environmental impacts on land, air, and water. A massive structure like this is a crucial feature for fossil fuel-based power generation.

Renewable energy resources may not require centralisation as due to their ubiquitous nature, unlike fossil fuels, which may exist erratically across the geographical location. Till date, the term ‘decentralized renewable energy’ (DRE) has been used to refer to off-grid systems, i.e., systems disconnected from the grid. However, we should keep in mind that decentralization is the elimination of single central nodes of control and enabling controls across multiple nodes. Off-grid systems are often decentralized, but not all decentralized systems are off-grid – small scale grid-interactive systems like solar rooftop plants are an example. On the other hand, Distributed Energy Resources systems are interconnected at the distribution network[4]

Learnings from the mini-grid sector

Urban power supply scenario improved in urban areas since the 1990s, and several private players have come up to meet household electricity needs, especially in the evenings, through renewable energy-based microgrids in rural areas[5]. Mini-grids are a result of the bad quality and unavailability of grid supply along with the decrease in the costs of technology used for Renewable Energy. Additionally, it has become easier to understand Renewable Energy technologies and their implementation. A strong network of support from donors and acknowledgement of the State on the difficulty (financial and technical) of extending the grid to remote locations and non-remunerative loads also contributed to the utilisation of mini-grids.[6]The poor economic condition of the erstwhile SEBs and later the DISCOMs coupled with increased levels of disposable income in better off villages, and the aspirational needs of the rural population also contributed to the emergence of this sector.

Thus, to deepen energy access targeted at the socio-economic development of rural communities, in particular, the Government needs to develop a new rural electrification policy aimed at meeting the SDGs, especially SDG 7. Learnings from experiences of mini-grid actors in meeting productive loads and leveraging DRE-DER should be essential components of such a policy. 

[1]Modi, Vijay, 2005. Improving Electricity Services in Rural India, CGSD Working Paper No.30, pp. 30

[2]‘Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana – Creating Efficiency in Electricity Distribution’, Swaniti Initiative,

[3]FAQs on Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana “Saubhagya”, Ministry of Power PIB Government of India,

[4]De Martini, Paul & Lorenzo Kristov, 2015, Distribution Systems in a High Distributed Energy Resources Future:

Planning, Market Design, Operation and Oversight, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

[5]Bhattacharyya, S.C., 2012a. Energy Access programmes and sustainable development: a critical review and analysis, Energy for Sustainable Development, Energy for sustainable development, Volume 163, pp. 260-271

[6]Tongia, Rahul. 2018. Microgrids in India: Myths, Misunderstandings, and the Need for Proper Accounting, Brookings India, pp 5

Editor: Ishan Gupta
February 15, 2020
Women’s issues, except ones that are concerning their domestic and familial roles, are severely under-represented in the Indian political narrative. This paper attempts to argue this through an analysis of the Question Hour data from 2006 to 2017.

Women’s issues, except ones that concern their domestic and familial roles, are severely under-represented in the Indian political narrative. I attempt to argue this through an analysis of the Question Hour data from 2006 to 2017.

In elected democracies, there is no specified role of a representative; is the task of a representative to be a delegate of the constituents’ demands and voices, or is it to represent policies, even unpopular ones, that would do their constituents well? According to political theorist Hanna Pitkin, there are four kinds of representations: Formal, Symbolic, Descriptive, and Substantive.     [i]

If we were to understand representation as substantive representation  – the activity of representatives that is taken on behalf of and in the interest of those they represent – we would be able to judge representatives in the parliament based on the questions they ask and the issues they decide to discuss. That is to say, the role the parliamentarian performs during the question hour, if done as prescribed, is one of being a Substantive Representative. This is the metric used in this paper while analysing how women’s interests are navigated in the Indian Parliament.

For this paper, women shall be understood as cis-gendered women. While trans and non-binary identities are important to study, it is beyond the scope of this paper. Additionally, I will be using questions asked during the Question Hour to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, to be questions pertaining to “women’s issues”.  The unintended consequence of defining such a boundary may include exclusion of programmes such as health care and education schemes impacting the population. However, due to the absence of any other Ministry dedicated (solely) towards Women’s Welfare, it can be assumed that the rest of these questions happening to represent women’s interests were accidental or unintentional. They have been excluded since they were not specifically meant to benefit women, even if they do so.

Background Literature

The standpoint theory informs us that women have been left out of the pursuit and creation of knowledge. Thereby, most, if not all, knowledge that has been created over the centuries is inherently androcentric. Proponents of the theory believe that even the ‘empirical’ science is partial towards men; it is not neutral, but in fact, based out of a historically sexist point of view. The theory further emphasises on the need for women to provide the previously underrepresented perspective and are in a better position to represent women’s interests, given the historical bias. Although such a theory runs the risk of essentialising the female identity and women’s interest, it gives us a great starting point to analyse how female parliamentarians navigate their positions as women in the parliament.

Women make up about 11% of the Lok Sabha, asking only about 7.5% of all questions and approximately 13% of these on women’s issues.[ii] This is strikingly different from other minority identities that are politicized in India, such as religion and caste. Muslims make up about 5% of total MPs in the Lok Sabha and ask about 22% of total questions on Muslim issues. SC/ST MPs make up about 24% of the seats in the Lok Sabha, and they raise 41 % of questions on caste issues.[iii] The ratio of women’s numbers in the parliament to the questions they ask is severely disproportionate when compared to similar ratios of other minority representatives.

There are some intersectionalities: a representative can be both a woman and a Muslim, or a member of the SC/ST community and a woman. Are they then more likely to adopt their non-woman identity? Is the ‘woman’ identity of a representative less politicised than their identity as a different minority? Texts concerning women in Hindutva Politics may help to answer these questions.

Sikta Banerjee details that women in the hyper-masculine Hindu Right navigate their position by fitting into the boxes of a heroic mother, a chaste wife, or a celibate warrior[iv]. They adopt these non-sexualized female identities since they are drawn from the Right’s narratives and hence are more accessible. Even in the discomfort that patriarchy creates, such identities provide a comfortable space to exist; an alternative to an outright defiance of the system. Banerjee has found that, “[the] cost of defiance is quite high in India…rebellion remains an alienating, isolating factor”.[v] Furthermore, as Tanika Sarkar put it so poignantly: all women are not feminists.[vi] This means that they may not identify as women-leaders per se. Despite this, there may exist a large-scale movement among (not-feminist) women from the right who bring with them agency and informed consent.[vii]

This perceived alienation between women and their female identity is contrary to the experiences of women in the Parliament such as Malini Bhattacharya. She has noted that, “…there was a tendency in Parliament to push women into certain corners. Just as in social life […], in Parliament also women are pushed into certain spaces saying, “this is where women should intervene””.[viii] If this were true, current participation should suggest that women are only participating in discussions about specific topic areas where it is allegedly acceptable for them to have a say, but that is not the case.[ix]

Contrary to the Parliamentary data, the data from state and local level legislation suggests that an increase in women sarpanches was more likely to be contingent on identity-based investment in women-centric issues, such as availability of drinking water.[x] Jacob and Basu explain that this lack of difference may be the product of the lack of a critical mass of women in the house (globally defined as 33%). We stand at 11.4% in 2014, which is much lower than the global 22.3%.[xi] India doesn’t fare well in comparison with its South Asians neighbours like Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, all of who have reservations for women.[xii] Nepal fills 29.9% of its house with women and ranks highest in South Asia.[xiii]

  (Figure 1: Jacob 237)[xiv]

This brings us to the elephant in the room –   the Women’s Reservation Bill. While the legislature has approved a bill that reserves seats for women in local legislatures, they have been averse to the same in the state and the centre. Proponents argue that the bill will help reach critical masses of women (globally defined as 33%), and that this would alter the outcome and tenor of the parliamentary debates.[xv]  There are two very important oppositions to this bill that we must take into account. The first opposition is that such a reservation would act as a ceiling rather than a base, thereby limiting the number of women who could be had in a Parliament.[xvi] The second opposition is a caste-based opposition which believes that the whole debate on the women’s reservation bill is an upper-caste ploy that is intent on erasing the new wave of lower-caste men who are entering into politics.[xvii] They believe that a blanket women’s-based reservation would erase caste, and the only people who would benefit would be upper-caste women – the biwis, betis and bahus.

Proponents of this line of thinking believe that a lot of women in positions of power are upper-caste women who are merely placeholders for the men in their families. Data shows that dynastic women are more likely to get elected. In 2014, 43% of the women in parliament (12%) had dynastic links as compared to only 19% of the men.[xviii] If this were true, it could be a valid explanation for their passive participation in the process of legislating for women.


For this paper, I will be conducting a quantitative analysis. As previously mentioned, I will be using questions from the last four terms of the Question Hour in the Parliament. The Question Hour is a latent paradigm which can reveal intriguing patterns in the discussion on women’s issues.  As in several western legislatures, during Question Hour, legislators are not restricted by party regulations. They pose up to five questions, four of which must be written. The government is obliged to answer. The speaker allows a maximum of only 250 questions (20 oral) picked via a ballot,[xix] providing us with a rather unbiased metric.

Saloni Bhogale, at the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University, has been working on the issue of Muslim Representation through the Question Hour data. The data was scraped from the Lok Sabha website, and with her help, a specific sub-set of questions asked to the Ministry of Women and Child was drawn. We were left with a sub-set of 2833 questions that contained the ID number, question number, subject, question, date, member(s) who asked the question, ministry (only the ministry of women and child for this data set), and whether the question is starred or unstarred.  They were then further categorised based on whether they were about children, women, the girl child. Several data points lie in the intersection of these categories and have been accordingly assigned to all applicable categories. Then the questions were further classified into nine categories: Anganwadi, abandonment and adoption, child welfare, economic, education, girl child, law and order, legislation and nutrition, health and growth. Some of these questions applied to more than one category and were assigned to all applicable categories. Lastly, to account for the effects of gender and the party allegiances of the members asking the questions, this data was merged with general election data as scraped, cleaned, and collected by TCPD.


Out of the 2833 questions, eventually, 2519 questions were analysed. 314 questions had to be discarded due to the absence of question text. Ten of these did not have enough data to be classified into women/child/ girl child but remained in the dataset under “cbd” (‘could not be determined’). Analysis of data was conducted in five different ways, a) all questions, b) questions asked about children, c) questions asked about women, d) questions about women and the girl child and lastly, e) questions asked by women.

  1. All Questions
Year No. of Questions
2006 152
2007 173
2008 119
2009 166
2010 275
2011 200
2012 274
2013 275
2014 228
2015 213
2016 253
2017 192

A total of 2519 questions have been asked to the Ministry of Women and Child since its inception in 2006. The trend of the number of questions being asked has remained similar over the years:

The lowest was 152, in the year the ministry was set up, and there seems to be a steady rise but not extremely significant given the highest has only been 275, in 2010 and 2013. The peak in 2013 could be attributed to the Nirbhaya Rape Case in December 2012[xx].

4436 people have asked these questions – since more than one person can ask a question. 3848, which is 87% of these people, are men and 588, which is 13% of them, are women.

From available data for 4340 of these people, 1482 of the questions have been asked by BJP elects, and that’s 34% and 21%, respectively. 1950 of the questions have been asked by others – that is the remaining 45%.

Topic No. of Questions
Aanganwadi 262
Abandonment and
Child Welfare 486
Economic 225
Education 50
Girl Child 94
Law and Order 435
Legislation 484
Nutrition, Health, and Growth 326

A general distribution of questions across topics looks as follows:

Most of the questions asked to the ministry were about child welfare (19.1%), followed closely by legislation at 19% and law and order at 17.1%. Questions about economic interests, education and those about the girl child remain on the fray at 8.9%, 2% and 3.7%, respectively.

  • Questions about Children:

Not inclusive of questions about children within other categories like child + women, there are 1227 questions about children. 2165 people have asked these questions, 1898 of who are men and 267 of who are women – that’s 88% and 12%, respectively.

We have parties available for 2059 of these (106 are missing). Given that data for 106 people is missing, from the remaining people, BJP asked 730 (30%); Congress asked 448 (22%); and 881(43%) questions were asked by members of other parties.

A general distribution of questions across topics looks as follows:

Topic No. of Questions
Aanganwadi 173
Abandonment and
Child Welfare 274
Economic 42
Education 23
Girl Child 31
Law and Order 236
Legislation 171
Nutrition, Health and Growth 164

Most of the questions are about child welfare, closely followed by law and order. The topic of education remained unexplored.

  • Questions about Women

In this category, there are questions asked about women in any combination. That is, it could be a question about both women and children, the girl child and children, about the girl child, children and women and so on.

1282 such questions have been asked about women. These questions have been asked by 2242 people, 1924 (86%) of whom are men and 318 (14%) of whom are women.

Parties are available for 2130 of these members (112 are missing). 740 of these are asked by members of BJP, that is 35%, and 455 of these are asked by members of Congress, that is 21%. 935 of these, that is the remaining 44%, are asked by members of other parties by other parties.

The general distribution of the kind of questions asked looks like this:

Topic No. of Questions
Aanganwadi 89
Abandonment and
Child Welfare 212
Economic 183
Education 27
Girl Child 63
Law and Order 198
Legislation 312
Nutrition, Health and Growth 154

Legislation, at 312 questions, has the most amount of questions asked, and Child Welfare continues to have 212 questions. Education, too, continues to have the least amount of questions asked.

  • Questions only about women and the girl child

This category completely excludes the child, and only includes questions that have been categorised under ‘women’, ‘girl-child’ or ‘girl child and women’.

890 such questions have been asked, by 1585 people, 86% (1338) of whom are men and 14% (206) of whom are women.

Discounting 86 people with missing party data, 35% (520) of the questions have been asked by members of BJP, 22% (326) by members of Congress and 43% (653) by members of other parties.

Topic No. of Questions
Aanganwadi 64
Abandonment and
Child Welfare 116
Economic 139
Education 17
Girl Child 54
Law and Order 153
Legislation 224
Nutrition, Health and Growth 69

The general distribution of questions looks as follows:

The greatest number of questions are those with regards to legislation at 224, followed by law and order at 153 and economic at 139. Child Welfare, at 116, has a considerably large amount of question base in this context.

  • Questions asked by Women

Although this does not qualify under the Substantive Representation of Women, given this paper is about women, it is important to also see what questions women who make it to the house ask. At least one woman has asked 528 Questions to the Ministry of Women and Child.[xxi]

The general distribution of these questions are as follows:

Topic No. of Questions
Aanganwadi 55
Abandonment and
Child Welfare 86
Economic 52
Education 13
Girl Child 12
Law and Order 96
Legislation 106
Nutrition, Health and Growth 68

 Legislation seems to be the most important topic at 106 questions, closely followed by law and order at 96. Child Welfare continues to occupy an important space here at 86 questions.


The Ministry of Women and Child did not exist before January 2006. It was originally set up as a department under the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 1985. That it took 13 houses to set up a ministry dedicated to women, highlights the inadequacy of constructive discourse around women in the country’s policymaking.

Further, it is problematic that the ministry compiles both women and children under one ministry. This suggests that the archaic narrative in Indian politics about a woman’s primary role –as a mother, a wife, a caregiver, is still at large. While the mandate of this ministry says that, “… these efforts are directed to ensure that women are empowered both economically and socially and thus become equal partners in national development along with men”[xxii], the subject allocation that follows this mandate tells a different story. The first item on this subject list is ‘welfare of the family’ and pertinent issues such as the National Commission for Women, the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh and Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equity come much lower in the list. Several of the subject areas that do deal with women are concerned with nutrition and crimes such as trafficking and while these are important, women’s issues are only seen as either that of the family or that of crime, and not of equity and opportunity. For decades, feminist critiques have been commenting on the limited appreciation of women’s issues in light of family and marriage,[xxiii] but this conversation has evidently not percolated into the political discourse in India. While questions on economic growth and opportunity made up only 8.9% of the questions asked to this ministry, child welfare accounts for more than twice of that, with as much with 19.1% of the questions. Questions about children alone (1227 questions) make up more than the questions about both women and the girl child put together (890 questions).

Kind of Questions No. of Questions
All Questions 486(/2519)
Only Children 274(/1227)
Women in some capacity 212(/1282)
Only Women and Girl Child 116(/890)
Questions asked by women   86(/528)    

This focus on child welfare remains irrespective of how the data is classified, as seen in the table below.

Irrespective of the nature of the classification, the questions about child welfare make up an average of 17% of the questions.

More than 50% of the questions, irrespective of the classifications, are asked between BJP and Congress. The representatives from BJP seem to be asking more questions than the representatives from Congress, irrespective of classification, which seems counter-intuitive given Congress’s popular narrative[xxiv]. This would make for interesting future research.

Lastly, women make up around 11% of the house and ask around 12% of the questions regarding women’s issues. When such an analysis is done with other identity markers, the difference is starkly noted. Muslims, for example, make up 5% of the house but ask 20% of the questions with regards to Muslim issues.[xxv] This is also true for SC and ST representatives.[xxvi] This points towards literature that suggests that women don’t want to be seen as “only” women’s representatives[xxvii] but as representatives beyond their identity.

What is hence outlined is a concern vis-à-vis the core of an Indian woman’s identity. As equal citizens of this Republic, the constitution bears upon Indian women every one of the same rights that it bears upon the men, to pursue their social, economic and political goals. Therefore, it is critical that the representatives of this country and especially the representatives of Indian women, recognise this and legislate accordingly.

[i] Formalistic Representation: Institutional, formal representation for the represented, Symbolic Representation: The value that the representative holds for the represented, Descriptive Representation: How much a representative resembles those represented? [and] Substantive Representation: The activity of representatives—that is, the actions taken on behalf of, in the interest of, as an agent of, and as a substitute for the represented (Stanford Encyclopedia).

[ii] Bhogale, S. (2018), Text of questions raised in the Lok Sabha (1999 to 2018), TCPD [Forthcoming]

[iii] Bhogale, S. (2018), Text of questions raised in the Lok Sabha (1999 to 2018), TCPD [Forthcoming]

[iv] In the Indian imagination: heroic mother like Rani of Jhansi, a chaste wife like Rani Padmavati, or a celibate warrior like the God Kaali

[v] Banerjee, S. (2006). “Armed masculinity, Hindu nationalism and female political participation in India.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 8(1): 62-83.

[vi] Sarkar, Tanika, “Pragmatics of the Hindu Right: Politics of Women’s Organizations.”  Women’s Studies in India edited by Mary E John, Penguin Books.

[vii] Sarkar, Tanika, “Pragmatics of the Hindu Right: Politics of Women’s Organizations.”  Women’s Studies in India edited by Mary E John, Penguin Books.

[viii] Bhattacharya, Malini. On Being a Woman in Parliament,

[ix] Jacob, Suraj. “Gender and Legislative Performance in India.” Politics & Gender, vol. 10, no. 02, 2014, pp. 236–264., doi:10.1017/s1743923x14000051.

[x] Basu, Amrita, “Women, Dynasties and Democracy in India.” Democratic Dynasties: State, Party and Family in Contemporary Indian Politics, edited by Kanchan Chandra, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

[xi] Basu, Amrita, “Women, Dynasties and Democracy in India.” Democratic Dynasties: State, Party and Family in Contemporary Indian Politics, edited by Kanchan Chandra, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

[xii] Basu, Amrita, “Women, Dynasties and Democracy in India.” Democratic Dynasties: State, Party and Family in Contemporary Indian Politics, edited by Kanchan Chandra, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

[xiii] Basu, Amrita, “Women, Dynasties and Democracy in India.” Democratic Dynasties: State, Party and Family in Contemporary Indian Politics, edited by Kanchan Chandra, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

[xiv] Jacob, Suraj. “Gender and Legislative Performance in India.” Politics & Gender, vol. 10, no. 02, 2014, pp. 236–264., doi:10.1017/s1743923x14000051.

[xv] Basu, Amrita, “Women, Dynasties and Democracy in India.” Democratic Dynasties: State, Party and Family in Contemporary Indian Politics, edited by Kanchan Chandra, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

[xvi] Basu, Amrita, “Women, Dynasties and Democracy in India.” Democratic Dynasties: State, Party and Family in Contemporary Indian Politics, edited by Kanchan Chandra, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

[xvii] Menon, Nivedita, “The Elusive ‘Woman’: Feminism and the Women’s Reservation Bill.”  Women’s Studies in India edited by Mary E John, Penguin Books.

[xviii] Basu, Amrita, “Women, Dynasties and Democracy in India.” Democratic Dynasties: State, Party and Family in Contemporary Indian Politics, edited by Kanchan Chandra, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

[xix] Jacob, Suraj. “Gender and Legislative Performance in India.” Politics & Gender, vol. 10, no. 02, 2014, pp. 236–264., doi:10.1017/s1743923x14000051.

[xx] See Harris, Gardiner. “Charges Filed Against 5 Over Rape in New Delhi.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2018,

[xxi] As previously mentioned, some questions are asked by more than one person

[xxii] “Ministry of Women & Child Development | GoI.” About the Ministry | Ministry of Women & Child Development | GoI,

[xxiii] Satz, Debra, “Feminist Perspectives on Reproduction and the Family”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

[xxiv] See PTI. “Women Empowerment Must for Country’s Development: Rahul Gandhi.” Https://, Livemint, 28 Feb. 2014,

[xxv] Bhogale, S. (2018), Text of questions raised in the Lok Sabha (1999 to 2018), TCPD [Forthcoming]

[xxvi] Bhogale, S. (2018), Text of questions raised in the Lok Sabha (1999 to 2018), TCPD [Forthcoming]

[xxvii] Basu, Amrita, “Women, Dynasties and Democracy in India.” Democratic Dynasties: State, Party and Family in Contemporary Indian Politics, edited by Kanchan Chandra, Cambridge University Press, 2016.; Bhattacharya, Malini. On Being a Woman in Parliament,

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