Home Month CGS Forum - To Steal, or Not to Steal: Attitudes Towards Electricity Theft in Northern India

CGS Forum - To Steal, or Not to Steal: Attitudes Towards Electricity Theft in Northern India

Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
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The Center for Global Sustainability is pleased to welcome Johannes Urpelainen to the Spring 2019 CGS Forums. 
He will be presenting on "To Steal, or Not to Steal: Attitudes towards Electricity Theft in Northern India”. Power theft remains rampant in many countries, posing an obstacle to effective electricity sector reform and ensuring proper, safe access to power. In India, electricity theft is estimated to account for 20-25 percent of generated power. One reason why existing policies have failed to curb theft could be because of a prevailing social norm of acceptance. The authors examine factors affecting the social acceptance of theft activity, including the social and economic contexts of the offenders, existing power supply quality, as well as the respondent's own socioeconomic circumstances. Using a randomized survey experiment, they study perceptions of theft in the form of using illegal nightlines katiya among rural and urban households in Uttar Pradesh, India (n=1800). We find evidence supporting that social acceptability of theft is influenced by income and by electricity supply quality of the offenders; respondents' own socioeconomic background do not affect these results. To shed light on another dimension of social acceptability of theft, we asked about the desired punishment levels for using katiya. The study does not find strong evidence that desired punishment levels are influenced by socioeconomic contexts of the hypothetical offender. This suggests that while there exists a sense of social reprimand for stealing power, actual desired enforcement of regulations could remain more relaxed. These results suggest that a focus on harsh punishment or strict enforcement may not receive successful community buy-in. In contrast to existing policies, a new policy aiming to successfully reduce katiya usage should look beyond top-down, strict punishment strategies.
Johannes Urpelainen is the director and Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Professor of Energy, Resources and Environment at Johns Hopkins SAIS and the Founding Director of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP). He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan in 2009 and spent the next eight years at Columbia University. Urpelainen is the award-winning author of four books and over a hundred refereed articles on environmental politics, energy policy and global governance. He teaches action-oriented classes on energy and environmental policy to equip the next generation of global leaders with deep knowledge, advanced analytical skills — and a passion for transformational social change. As one of the world’s top energy policy experts, Urpelainen frequently advises governments, international organizations, and the private sector on energy and environment.
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