The History of Electricity in India: How it became an indispensable part of our lives?

To trace the history of electrical power and its widespread application in India, we need to go back to the colonial period. In those times electricity was not as easily available as it is today. Power generation, transmission and distribution facilities were limited. There was no concept of long distance power transmission. Power was produced locally and distributed to the nearby locations; mostly by private companies. The agenda of colonial government was never to take electricity to the rural population. It only prioritized on electrifying major administrative centers, towns and ports. Although the British Crown had paramountcy over almost every part of the Indian subcontinent, it could not provide a single political and administrative framework. The entire region was a fragmentation of numerous princely states and British ruled provinces. Often the region was embroiled in the turmoil brought in by the freedom struggle. It slowed down the developmental works; whatever minimal were taking place. On 24th July 1879, the first demonstration of light bulbs took place on the streets of Kolkata by P.W. Fleury & Co. In 1881, 36 electric lights lit up a Cotton Mill in Calcutta. In 1897, the company got renamed as Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation headquartered in London. Only much later, in 1970, the headquarter of the company was shifted to Calcutta from London.

                    One of the turning point during this period was the framing of the Electricity Act of India in 1910. This act empowered the private companies to generate electric power and distribute it among the public. However, the common people hardly had access to it. The customers mostly included government offices, banks, clubs, factories etc. There was a lot of load shedding and the situation only improved gradually. The hydroelectric power station commissioned in 1896 in Sidrabong, Darjeeling with a capacity of 130KW was the first ever of its kind. Similarly, the first thermal power station was eastablished in Emambagh, by Calcutta Electric Supply Co. in 1899. Another milestone was the Khopoli hydro-electric station, Maharashtra started by the TATA hydro-electric power supply company in 1915 with an installed capacity of 40MW.

                     After independence and partition, the Government of India gradually started taking things into its own hands. The Electricity Supply Act,1948 was a landmark event in this regard. This act paved way towards formation of State Electricity Boards(SEBs). The first five year plan started in 1951 focused mainly on increased agriculture production and re-developing the country from scratch. Out of the total planned budget of Rs 2069 crore, 27% of funds were allocated in irrigation and energy. The SEBs were responsible for stepping up the generation, transmission and distribution facilities in their respective states. However, these SEBs were unable to match their generation capacity against the ever increasing power demand. Hence, the government started creating extra generation facilities centrally. For this purpose, the Central Electricity Authority(CEA) was constituted under Electricity Supply Act 1948. It advises the government on deciding policy matters related to electrical systems. In addition to it, the Electricity Supply Act was further amended in 1976 that led to the formation of central power generation facilities viz. NTPC, NHPC and NPCIL etc.

                       Along with adequate generation facilities, it is utmost important to have a transmission network so that power can be transferred from the place of generation to the place of utilization. With this purpose, in 1989, government established the National Power Transmission Corporation(NPTC) which later became famous as the Power Grid Corporation of India. Gradually it was seen that, electricity was becoming an integral part of peoples’ lives. With industrialization and increased mechanization, each and every activity of our daily lives started depending on electricity. The generation facility of one particular state or region was unable to fulfill the load demand of that region. It was when India finally started with the inter-regional grid managements from 1960s. The isolated SEBs were connected with each other to form five regional grids viz. northern, north-eastern, central, eastern and southern grids. This started inter-regional power transmission and the reliability of the system improved by a considerable amount. Gradually these regional grids were also connected with each other. Dec 31st, 2013 is a historic day for India as on this very day; India achieved the goal of “one nation one grid” with the interconnection of southern grid to the central grid. It was made possible with the commissioning of 765KV Raichur-Solapur transmission line.              

                          In distribution sector also India has achieved new heights. On 28th April,2018 Leisang village in the Senapati district of Manipur became the last village of India to get connected  to the national power grid under the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). With the ever depleting petroleum products, the power generation sector is facing a hard time. It is learnt from recent reports that, a number of thermal power generating stations in India were on the verge of closing down due to shortage in supply of raw material; i.e. coal. These vulnerabilities put the focus on renewable generation i.e. solar, wind etc. Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Grid Mission inaugurated in 2013 was a flagship program of Government of India to put the nation in a prominent position in the area of solar energy generation. Under the Ministry of Power, National Smart Grid Mission was established in the year 2015 which helps the government in deciding policies related to smart grid implementation. Presently, pilot projects are being carried out in different parts of the country to ascertain the possibilities of realizing a smart grid in present scenario. Very recently, the Electricity Amendment Bill has been tabled in the Lok Sabha. This bill suggests to amend the existing Electricity Act 2003 which was enacted with the purpose of consolidating laws related to power generation, transmission, distribution, marketing, usage etc. The new bill aims to give access to private players to participate in power distribution sector and use each-others’s infrastructure; just like the telecom sector. If enacted, this bill will lead to a paradigm shift in the way power is generated, transmitted and distributed in India.

                          As India is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence, as we look back, the nation has come a long way in the development of the electricity sector which in turn acts as a driving force towards overall development of the nation. It is quite evident that in near future, this fascinating form of energy is going to penetrate more and more into our lives and take our great nation to even greater heights.