India swings to net power exporter as Modi looks to block China

For the first time, India is exporting more electricity than it’s importing as Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks to aid smaller neighbors and keep them from a decisive shift toward China.

Exports to Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar between April and February were 213 million units higher than the 5.6 billion units purchased from Bhutan, India’s Power Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. This stands to rise as India builds more cross-border links, it added.

The move furthers India’s “Act East” policy — Modi’s upgrade of the 1990s “Look East” plan — as his administration jostles with China for influence in one of the world’s least economically integrated areas. China has been pouring in investment to fix chronic electricity shortages in Pakistan, India’s rival, and its utilities have been lobbying the new government in Myanmar.

However, progress on electricity exports shows New Delhi is “strengthening regional connectivity, one of India’s major foreign policy objectives,” said Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, a fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think-tank. “There is need to strengthen India’s footprint in the region,” she added, referring to China’s strategic investments.

India’s cabinet last month approved construction of a 57 billion rupee ($878 million) hydroelectric project in Nepal by India’s state-owned SJVN Ltd. This will generate 900 megawatts of power. According to the 25-year agreement between the two countries, Nepal will receive 22 percent of the power produced during the period for free.

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