And then it all came crashing down

So you predict this using a dynamical model, where you have actual data and you build statistical models. It is not like you get it right all the time. Every time you do this, you get better at it. So that’s what we did. We sold this data to several power utilities through a subscription. I did energy for a while, from 2007-2012. And then it all came crashing down. The privatization of power utilities, as planned, never happened. The power exchanges went kaput. None of the utilities, all saddled with debt, had any money to pay for the forecast data. I had built my entire business around this.

Recruitment of the people

I had hired people. It was an expensive operation. I had raised venture capital with this specific plan. It all came to nothing. The media revenues were gone, the internet started seeping in, and nobody wanted to pay for the weather. Then power collapsed, and mind you, this is just after I had raised money. My whole business plan just did not make sense…

The Ken: What did you do?

Singh: Survived. I had forty people. There is a moral obligation that you don’t ask them to go when swings happen. I had hired some people from the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing and the forecast business collapsed after that. I can’t ask them to go back. They left a government job to come work with me. Also, there is a big difference after you raise money because you owe something to your investors. I remember going to Goa with my friends, and it was this time of the year, monsoon, there is something that is called entrepreneurial depression. And my investor was on the phone, and things were not good because I was running out of cash and I was this investor’s first investment also. I had raised $1 million of risk capital. And I think I was at the Taj and this is next to Vijay Mallya’s villa. 6 o’clock in the morning on the beach and I was looking out to the sea and thinking, let the ocean just come and sweep me away because I can’t do this. I have done this for many years and here I am, I don’t think I can carry on. It is becoming too hard.

Northern Load Dispatch Center

See, when you start running a business, you take leaps. And I loved the energy business. I still do. It had real promise, but I think the next round of non-performing assets (NPAs) that will haunt the government will be from the power business. All the private power utilities in India were my clients at some point in time. North Delhi Power Limited (NDPL), Reliance Energy, Power Grid Corporation, Northern Load Dispatch Center, all of them. They were all subscribers. But none of the distribution companies make any money, and the government has just been moving around their debt, effectively bailing them out. There are now ghost power plants all over the country. Doing nothing, because you never privatized the utilities. You had the perfect opportunity to do it and you didn’t.

Businesses like Skymet can do really well in energy and water utilities. But both these sectors are government monopolies. This means they hide inefficiencies. They bail them out. Jusco in Jamshedpur, run by the Tatas, is the only private water utility in this country. Just look at us. We are a phenomenal country running 30-story buildings on diesel gen-sets; what a massive waste of energy is that? Why can’t Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam (DHBVN), which distributes power in Haryana, be private? Give it away, why is it so hard? Is anybody even measuring the water that is being treated, going into homes? How well are we treating our sewage, it is a big ass resource.

If you don’t privatize, you will never measure. If you don’t measure, the inefficiencies will stay. One of the first power utilities which were privatized is Noida Power Company Limited which is owned by the RPG Group and provides power to Greater Noida. The idea was that we will do privatization of Greater Noida in 1991 and then move to Noida.

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