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Industry News

GE's Welch Warns India to Reform, Build Power Sector

LCG, Sept. 18, 2000India must build its electric generating capacity or it will be an also-ran in the technology age, even though it has one of the world's top software industries, Jack Welch, chief executive of General Electric Co. warned Indian businessmen gathered in New Delhi over the weekend.

In India for the opening of a GE research facility in Bangalore, Welch had plenty to say about both the woeful state of the country's electric sector and the high quality of its intellectual side, much of it in an interview with The Economic Times of New Delhi.

"India's going to have to wake up to their power needs," he said. If they don't they won't take advantage of the (technological) revolution." He scolded "Everyone thinks the Internet shows up here, on the computer, and it doesn't use power."

Welch believes that information technology is a wonderful new industry but, he noted, "The fact is, every basic bit of information uses electronics and if you don't have power, nothing happens." He noted that a hand-held computer uses as much energy as a refrigerator and pointed to problems in the U.S., the most developed country in the world, which is suffering from power shortages.

While Welch was disappointed in the growth of GE products in India over the past 12 years, he was ecstatic about Indian intellectual contributions to his company. "Our use of the intellect has outpaced my wildest dreams," he said. "Software development, design centers, building a brand new corporate laboratory in Bangalore which is the equal to what we have in New York."

India needs at present, according to most estimates, about 120,000 megawatts of generation. It has slightly less than 100,000 megawatts, but as little as two-thirds of that generation reaches a paying customer, the rest being stolen en route.

At the same time, populist electricity subsidies to farmers and to urban bureaucrats at every level have bankrupted state electricity boards. Foreign investors, who were eager to build power plants for the state electricity boards a few years ago, have departed because of the uncertainty of receiving payment for their power.

The electricity sector must be taken out of the hands of bureaucrats, according to Welch, or their will be problems more serious than a few brownouts. "You'll have power riots here," he said. "You desperately have to privatize the power industry. You've lost many people who came here to start power plants," leaving only a handful.

"India's going to be left behind with all the intellectual capital," Welch warned, if there's no power."

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