Master classes in shaping India

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Power. Energy. Inclusion. Conflict. Government. Civil society. Agriculture. And education. Everything was up for animated discussion at the IPPAI retreat in Goa.

By A Tehelka Correspondent

Paradox party Vikram Chandra, Justice Ahmadi, Ratna Raj Kohli, Mark Tully, Suhel Seth, Kingshuk Nag
Image Courtesy: IPPAI

A CONCLAVE OF policymakers and regulators may not be the most enticing reason for visiting Goa, but the 12th IPPAI – Independent Power Producers Association of India-retreat a couple of months back had two welcome surprises: the breathtaking beauty of Goa in the monsoons and some unexpectedly good conversations.

Siddharth Patankar, Ravishankar Prasad, Dhanendra Kumar and Shoma Chaudhury
Government and opposition Siddharth Patankar, Ravishankar Prasad, Dhanendra Kumar and Shoma Chaudhury

Harry Dhaul, the chairman of IPPAI, likes to present himself as eccentric: a man in a bowler hat with a plastic pre-mobile era purple phone by his side. But beneath this avatar, Dhaul, an energy entrepreneur, is a committed patron of this annual conference. Every year, he brings together senior decisionmakers from the government, regulatory authorities, industry, academia, and organisations that serve the social good to debate and possibly reconcile differing perspectives and world views.

This year the IPPAI meet in Goa was focussed on the paradoxes of India and the perennial riddle: how can India have sustainable energy security and inclusive growth? There were other focus areas like government and citizen engagement; conflicts within India; the geopolitics impacting India; the balance between growth and environment; the challenges of overhauling education, investments in agriculture, and unequal access to welfare.

In the session on power projects, two clear sets of concerns were raised. On the industry side, there were anxieties about delays and bottlenecks in generating more power and smoother, less tortuous government policies. However, other speakers raised anxieties about environmental damage, over-concentration of power projects in certain pockets and the politics of access: power generated in the name of the poor but rarely delivered to the poor.

Among the most fascinating insights in the conference was the idea proposed by a former chairman of the Industrial Board of India that there was need for an urgent rethink on India’s policy of industrialisation. Industrialisation, for the government, should not be a goal in itself, he argued, but have a region specific and utilitarian rationale. Both for national wellbeing and the economic security of the country, in regions where there were thriving agri-based economic activities or a rich tradition of crafts, it was imperative to invest in enabling those kinds of entrepreneurship rather than obliterating them.

Harry Dhaul, Pramod Deo, SL Rao, GB Pradhan
Powering India? Harry Dhaul, Pramod Deo, SL Rao, GB Pradhan
Image Courtesy: IPPAI

Bureaucrats and policy makers in the audience
Movers and shapers Bureaucrats and policy makers in the audience

Hearteningly, some corporate captains spoke of the need for corporations to invest in societies, enhance the neighbor community and centre businesses around some core values. The time had come to move from the palliative of corporate social responsibility to corporate citizenship.

Some of the most heated and animated discussions were centred on the big contemporary preoccupation: should there be bigger government or less; better regulation or just less regulation; cautious reform or a more speeded up one. This was to see bureaucrats and former policy makers at their engaged best.

The retreat had two welcome surprises: the breathtaking beauty of Goa in the monsoon and some insightful conversation

Amongst the speakers at the festival were Ajoy Mehta, MD, Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited; Dhanendra Kumar, Former Chairman, Competition Commission of India; Devdutt Pattanaik, Chief Belief Officer, Future Group; Gopal Saxena, CEO, BSES Rajdhani Power Limited; H M Nerurkar, Managing Director, Tata Steel; Sir Mark Tully, Freelance Journalist; Patrick Mercer, OBE MP for Newark, United Kingdom;. Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman & Creative Director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather India; Pramod Deo, Chairman, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission; Prof. SL Rao, Former Chairman, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission; Sanjay Ubale, MD & CEO, Tata Realty & Infrastructure; Suresh Prabhu, Former Power Minister, MP; Utpal Chatterjee, Former Sheriff of Calcutta; VP Raja, Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission; and Ved Marwah, Former Governor of Manipur, Mizoram & Jharkhand.

As an interface for different stakeholders to come together and reach for a common goal, the IPPAI policy and regulators retreat performs a valuable function. It is fortunate the 13th retreat will soon be round the corner.

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