In a country where electricity is stolen or not billed to the amount that can light up all of Italy for a year, an American researcher claimed today that power is used as a tool to influence elections, particularly in the largest Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Based on a case study of the state, the University of Michigan in a research study said that during elections electricity is used to win votes.
The major research, published in the "Energy Policy" journal, the university researcher found that power losses increased by three percentage points just before the polls.
"The paper offers a political explanation on electricity loss and why it persists in plain sight," said Brian Min, assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan.
"In short, elected political leaders benefit at the polls when their constituents receive more electricity," he added.
In UP, 29 per cent of all power sent out from 1970 to 2010 was never billed for, presumably lost to theft, billing irregularities, and technical losses.
This cumulative loss amounts to some 300 million megawatt-hours, enough to power all of Italy or South Africa for a year, the research claimed.
Min said the study shows that incumbent candidates are more likely to win re-election in areas where power losses are allowed to increase.
"Political factors affect line losses in ways that technical and economic factors alone cannot explain," said Min, who analyzed data from the 2002 and 2007 elections in UP.
Rates of line loss in UP are higher today than they were in the 1970s, despite policy interventions, regulatory reforms and increased efforts to prosecute power theft.
Line losses were highest in western UP, home to strong political families. In Hathras and Mainpuri districts, 50 per cent of the power is being lost or not billed. In contrast, the lowest line loss was in Gautam Buddha Nagar at 13.6 per cent, which includes Noida, a commercial area with many multinational company offices
According to the study, the immediate need to win votes overlooks the systematic challenges that take money and time to solve.
"Politicians focus on getting their constituents electricity...But the government has not been able to address the investments needed to buildnew power plants that might alleviate the power crisis," Min said.
Rural areas don't have meters and usually pay a flat rate for electricity.
The study suggests that meters should be used in the countryside because that might reduce the partisan manipulation of the energy sector.
Before elections, many villages are limited to 12 hours of electricity per day. But during the vote, the supply goes up to 18 hours or more without any change in revenue, the study said.