India Table of Contents

India produces nearly 90 percent of its energy requirements, 65 percent of which are met by coal. Although commercial energy production has expanded substantially since independence, an inadequate supply of energy remains a constraint on industrial growth. Overall growth in the demand for energy was rapid in the early 1990s, but commercial energy consumption was among the lowest in the world. Much energy use in the subsistence sector, such as the use of firewood and cattle dung, is unrecorded. Analysts believe that the share of noncommercial energy fell from around 65 percent in the early 1950s to 23 percent in 1991, and they expect this proportion to fall further during the 1990s. Most commercial energy production and distribution are in the public sector, but in the mid-1990s, the government was moving slowly to encourage the entry of private capital.


The coal industry is a key segment of the economy. Reserves are estimated at 192 billion tons, 78 billion tons of which are proven reserves. Additional coal exists in small seams, at great depths, and in undiscovered locations. The bulk of the coal found has been in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and West Bengal. Known reserves should last well into the twenty-first century. In the 1980s, development of strip mines was stressed over underground mines because of the speed with which they could be exploited. Most of the industry was nationalized in the early 1970s. Coal India Limited was established in 1975 as the government's holding company for several operating subsidiaries. Production stagnated in the second half of the 1970s at around 105 million tons after an initial surge in production following nationalization. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the industry was plagued by the flooding of mines, serious power outages, delays in commissioning new mines, labor unrest, lack of explosives, poor transportation, and environmental problems. Government-set coal prices did not cover operating expenses of the more technically difficult mines. The central government was the main source of investment funds.

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, the coal industry--along with the electric power and transportation sectors--was a critical bottleneck in the economy and particularly handicapped industrial growth. The Seventh Five-Year Plan (1985-89) set a target of 226 million tons for coal production in FY 1989, but actual production reached only 214 million tons. Production rose to 241 million tons in FY 1991 and to 251 million tons in FY 1992. The annual demand for coal in the mid-1990s was around 320 million tons, a level that appeared to be out of reach without a significant leap in efficiency and large-scale investment. Subsurface mine fires in Bihar, some of which have been burning since 1916, have consumed some 37 million tons of coal and make another 2 billion tons inaccessible.

Oil and Natural Gas

India has significant amounts of oil and natural gas, and four of India's top six revenue-generating companies are in the oil and natural gas business. India has indigenous sources for around 60 percent of its oil needs and has worked diligently to use substitute forms of energy to fulfill the other 40 percent. Oil in commercial quantities was first discovered in Assam in 1889. The Oil and Natural Gas Commission was established in 1954 as a department of the Geological Survey of India, but a 1959 act of Parliament made it, in effect, the country's national oil company. Oil India Limited, at one time one-third government owned, was also established in 1959 and developed an oil field that had been discovered by the Burmah Oil Company. By 1981 the government had purchased all of the Burmah Oil Company's assets in India and completely owned Oil India Limited. The Oil and Natural Gas Commission discovered oil in Gujarat in 1959 and opened other fields in the 1960s and 1970s.

The early oil fields discovered in India were of modest size. Oil production amounted to 200,000 tons in 1950 and 400,000 tons in 1960. By the early 1970s, production had increased to more than 8 million tons. In 1974 the Oil and Natural Gas Commission discovered a large field--called the Bombay High--offshore from Bombay. Production from that field was responsible for the rapid growth of the country's total crude oil production in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. In FY 1989, oil production peaked at 34 million tons, of which Bombay High accounted for 22 million tons. In the early 1990s, wells were shut in offshore fields that had been inefficiently exploited, and production fell to 27 million tons in FY 1993. That amount did not meet India's needs, and 30.7 million tons of crude oil were imported in FY 1993.

India has thirty-five major fields onshore (primarily in Assam and Gujarat) and four major offshore oil fields (near Bombay, south of Pondicherry, and in the Palk Strait). Of the 4,828 wells, in 1990 2,514 were producing at a rate of 664,582 barrels per day. The oil field with the greatest output is Bombay High, with 402,797 barrels per day production in 1990, about fifteen times the amount produced by the next largest fields. Total reserves are estimated at 6.1 billion barrels.

The government has sanctioned ambitious exploration plans to raise production in line with demand and to exploit new discoveries as rapidly as possible. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were encouraging finds in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Assam; many of these discoveries were made offshore. Officials estimated that by the mid-1990s these new fields could contribute as much as 15 million to 20 million tons in new production and that total crude oil production could increase to 51 million tons in FY 1994. In the early 1990s, the government renewed attempts, which had begun in the early 1980s, to interest foreign oil companies in purchasing exploration and production leases. These efforts drew only a modest response because the terms offered were difficult, and foreign companies remained suspicious of India's investment climate. One response, agreed on in January 1995, was an Indian-Kuwaiti joint venture to invest in a new oil refinery to be built on the east coast of India.

Substantial quantities of natural gas are produced in association with crude oil production. Until the 1980s, most of this gas was flared off because there were no pipelines or processing facilities to bring it to customers. In the early 1980s, large investments were made to bring gases from Bombay High and other offshore fields ashore for use as fuel and to supply feedstock to fertilizer and petrochemical plants, which also had to be constructed or converted to use gas. By the mid-1980s, natural gas could be delivered to facilities near Bombay and near Kandla in Gujarat. In the mid-1990s, a 1,700-kilometer trans-India pipeline was being built; the pipeline will link the facilities near Bombay and Kandla to a series of gas-based fertilizer plants and power stations. Officials envisage a grid system covering 11,500 kilometers by FY 2004, which will supply 120 million cubic meters of gas a day. Total production in FY 1992 was 18.1 billion cubic meters.

India's need for oil and petroleum-based products--about 40 million tons per year--far exceeded its domestic production capabilities of 28 million tons per year in the early 1990s. Given India's dependency on Persian Gulf resources, proposals were made in the early 1990s to develop natural gas pipelines from Iran, Qatar, and Oman that would run under the Arabian Sea to one or more west coast terminals. To assist with oil and natural gas production, in 1992 the government decided to open reserves to private offshore developers. In February 1994, contracts were awarded for three offshore fields in the Arabian Sea to an Indian-United States consortium and one in the Bay of Bengal to an Indian-Australian-Japanese consortium. In June 1995, an agreement was reached to set a joint-venture company to construct the first leg of the pipeline, from Iran to Pakistan.

Electric Power

The electric power industry is both a supplier and a consumer of primary energy, depending on the kind of energy used to turn the generators. Hydroelectric and nuclear power plants add to the country's supply of primary energy. The total installed electricity capacity in public utilities in 1992 was 69,100 megawatts, of which 70 percent was thermal, 27 percent hydropower, and 3 percent nuclear. The total installed capacity was programmed to reach around 100,000 megawatts by FY 1996 through a package of government-supported incentives to the private sector.

Because they cannot always depend on public utilities, many larger industrial enterprises have developed their own power generation systems. In 1992 there was a capacity of 9,000 megawatts outside the public utility system. Overall, the generation and transmission of power--with an average 57 percent plant load factor in FY 1992 in thermal plants and transmission losses of 22 percent--were inefficient. About 322 billion kilowatt- hours of power were generated by utilities in FY 1992, approximately 8.5 percent shy of demand. The resulting deficit led to acute shortages in some states. This trend continued the next year when 315 billion kilowatt-hours were produced. Many factors contributed to the shortfall of electric power, including slow completion of new installations, low use of installed capacity because of insufficient maintenance and coal, and poor management. In FY 1990, industry accounted for 45 percent of electricity consumed, agriculture 26 percent, and domestic use 16.5 percent. Other sectors, including commerce and railroads, accounted for the remaining 12.5 percent.

Rural electrification made great progress in the 1980s; more than 200,000 villages received electricity for the first time. In 1990 around 84 percent of India's villages had access to electricity. Most of the villages without electricity were in Bihar, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Villagers complain that government figures on electrification of villages are artificially inflated. Actually, although lines have been run to most villages, electricity is provided only sporadically (for example, only nine to twelve hours per day), and villagers feel they cannot depend on electricity to operate pumps and other equipment. Electricity to cities also is sporadic; blackouts occur every day in most cities.

India's first hydroelectric station was constructed in 1897 in Darjiling (then Darjeeling). In FY 1990, installed capacity for hydroelectric power was 18,000 megawatts. The country has a large economically exploitable hydroelectric potential, especially in the foothills of the Himalayas, but no large increase in capacity is predicted for the mid-1990s. Hydroelectric facilities have to be coordinated with other sources of electricity because seasonal and annual variations in rainfall affect the amount of water needed to turn the generators and consequently the amount of electricity that can be produced.

Hydroelectric power projects have not been without controversy. Dams for irrigation and power generation have displaced people and raised the specter of ecological problems.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear-power developments are under the purview of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, a government-owned entity under the Department of Atomic Energy. The corporation is responsible for designing, constructing, and operating nuclear-power plants. In 1995 there were nine operational plants with a potential total capacity of 1,800 megawatts, about 3 percent of India's total power generation. There are two units each in Tarapur, north of Bombay in Maharashtra; in Rawatbhata in Rajasthan; in Kalpakkam near Madras in Tamil Nadu; and in Narora in Uttar Pradesh; and one unit in Kakrapur in southeastern Gujarat. However, of the nine plants, all have been faced with safety problems that have shut down reactors for periods ranging from months to years. The Rajasthan Atomic Power Station in Rawatbhata was closed indefinitely, as of February 1995. Moreover, environmental problems, caused by radiation leaks, have cropped up in communities near Rawatbhata. Other plants operate at only a fraction of their capacity, and some foreign experts consider them the most inefficient nuclear-power plants in the world.

In addition to the nine established plants, seven reactors are under construction in the mid-1990s: one at Kakrapur and two each at Kaiga, on the coast of Karnataka, Rawatbhata, and Tarapur, which, when finished, will bring an additional 2,320 megawatts of energy online. Construction of ten additional reactors is in the planning stage for Kaiga, Rawatbhata, and Kudangulam in Tamil Nadu, which, when combined, will supply 4,800 megawatts capacity. The overall plan is to increase nuclear-generation capacity to 10,000 megawatts by FY 2000, but work has been slowed because of financial shortages. India partially overcame its shortage of enriched uranium--needed to fuel the Tarapur units--by imports from China, starting in 1995.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress