The government abolished the Planning Commission and, in its place, created NITI Aayog. The aim of this institution is to provide policy inputs and disseminate knowledge. The role of the energy division in this newly formed body becomes critical because it has to ensure coordination among multiple energy supplying and consuming ministries towards meeting the rising energy needs of the country. Anil Kumar Jain, IAS, additional secretary, heads this division in NITI Aayog, which has a team of over a dozen and-a-half professionals, catering to the policy needs of sectors as diverse as biofuels to atomic energy.
Jain and his team are putting the final touches to the country’s new National Energy Policy, which, he says, should be ready in a few months’ time. The delays are hardly surprising. Devising an energy policy for 1.3 billion people with multiple sectors, multiple state governments, multiple ministries protecting their turf and pushing their interests, and an array of stakeholders is a mammoth and unenviable task. All this while also making sure the policy remains relevant for the next 20 years even though changes will be happening at lightning speed.
“When you make a national energy policy, you are trying to achieve the most efficient mix for the country, which may require a ministry to take two steps
back, which is hard because there is loyalty to your sector. You can’t blame them. What you end up with is a debate and that’s the debate we are having now with various ministers. It happened in the past and it’s happening now,” he says.
Jain says it’s not just about dealing with all of India’s energy sources but also about addressing collateral issues such as clean energy, international engagement, technology and energy efficiency. In the past, India has not had an integrated and harmonised process of reforms in energy. Unlike the US and the UK where one central omnibus agency handles energy policy, India has had diverse ministries – one for raw material, another for processesing it, another for transmitting it – so it has been difficult.
Then you have the links with public transport, the railways. Everything is intertwined tightly together and it’s been a challenge for Jain and his team to weave all the multiple threads into one cohesive whole. “The prime minister’s instructions are clear – we have to work in unity and cohesion. There are to be no perceived differences. We have to work together and work as Team India,” he says.
It doesn’t help that things are changing so fast in the energy sector that barely is an area of policy finalised than it has to be updated owing to marketplace changes. For example, by the time a new tender for solar comes out, prices have dropped by 25 per cent, so solar’s competitiveness vis-à-vis other energy sources changes. “Any recommendation you made 18 months ago, no longer stands,” says Jain. Once the issues that need to be tackled at the inter-ministerial level are sorted out, the policy will be finalised, 18 months after the process started. Then NITI Aayog will take it to the state governments, industry, other stakeholders and the public.
The other main challenge Jain faces in his job is the transformation of the power sector. “One big trigger for this transformation is the falling cost of renewable energy, but this is not the only one. The second trigger is the fast evolving technology in energy efficiency. And the third trigger is the use of IT, which is enabling the energy sector in a huge way. IT is not only data; it enables power companies to function differently. Earlier, if there were a dozen power plants in a state, you handled that; but now, if you have every residential rooftop generating power, you need IT to manage that. So the rapid reduction in the price of renewable energy, advances in energy efficiency and the enablement being provided by IT are leading the transformation of the power sector. I’d say it is on a similar scale as what we saw in the telecom sector,” he notes.
Asked if the government was downgrading the importance of hydropower, Jain seemed to concur, pointing to the sheer complexities of hydro projects. Land and rehabilitation issues are controversial, there is greater public awareness of the environment, the development of large hydro projects takes very long – all these factors, he says, make hydro a challenge.
He offers an example – the ambitious Ken-Betwa river-linking project in Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh. There is a lot of water in the River Ken, which can be diverted to Betwa and provide relief for the parched land in the area. But this central government project is mired in controversy. “There is so much bureaucracy, and so many procedures and clearances involved because the Panna wildlife park is nearby that it all becomes difficult. Hydro is no longer easy. It’s not that we are being hostile to hydro, just that it’s much more expensive and time-consuming and runs into lots of sensitivities,” he says.
Jain is an IAS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre. He has a BA in economics, an MBA, and a diploma from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. As someone with 15 years in the energy sector, he has published a number of papers and articles on the sector, including a book on the natural gas policy framework in India. He has been a visiting senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in Oxford.
“This sector is exciting because something or the other is always happening. It has a lot of entrepreneurism, a lot of capital invested, and it sees tectonic shifts every four to five years. Just five years back, there was the shale gas revolution in the US, which led to a massive fall in prices. The development shook the world. Likewise, with our National Energy Policy, it is all about assessing the opportunities that are coming our way from all over the world and deciding how we can make the most of them,” he says.
In a broader sense, beyond energy, Jain has over three decades of administrative experience at the field and policy formulation levels in various ministries/departments in the state and central governments. Between 2003 and 2008, as director and joint secretary in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, he was closely involved with policy formulation and implementation on upstream and downstream development of the gas sector in India, including exploration, the award of acreages, and the pricing and distribution of natural gas.
Jain loves research. He is pursuing a Ph.D at TERI University on the future role of gas in the Indian economy. At NITI Aayog, he has been working closely with energy think tanks and has been leading his team for the preparation of the long-term energy demand and supply projection tool – IESS, 2047. “The government wants to give a thrust to the latest know-how and policy approaches from think tanks. We have signed almost a dozen MoUs with think tanks in India and abroad to make sure we get the latest research,” he says.
Jain says this research can provide vital inputs into policy. “Say, given the way the transport sector is growing, it is going to impact congestion and air quality. If we improve the quality of fuel, if we improve the mileage done by vehicles and make it all more cost-effective, what would these changes mean for demand? These are the sorts of studies we are doing here and we are sharing the results with the ministries so that they can factor these findings into their own policies and targets. What we do at NITI Aayog is provide an overarching perspective,” he says.
What matters for Jain is that ordinary Indians should see their lives improving. He is impatient for the remaining villages in India to get electricity. The target to complete the electrification of the country is 2018. He is pleased with the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) policy. “Can you imagine, rural womenfolk have been given LPG connections, more than 2 crore connections to women who were still using chullahs? With the present government, the focus is always on how policy will impact the ordinary person.” On financing for energy projects, Jain says that while the size of the Indian market has always made it attractive, he does concede that there was some investor resistance because of the lack of profitability, too many pricing controls, subsidies and government interference.
These concerns, he says, have been addressed in that subsidies are only given to vulnerable groups and commercial pricing has been introduced in diesel. “So now, this gigantic market that India has been boasting of is finally going to be unleashed in a big way,” he says.