Fieldwork in Uttar Pradesh, India, June 2016

To Steal, or Not to Steal

This is part of joint work with Johannes Urpelainen (JHU SAIS) and Brian Blankenship (Dartmouth).

Existing policies have failed to curb electricity theft and remains a focus of the new Saubhagya scheme. We study of public opinions towards electricity theft in order to inform policy design that could generate better public buy-in. We propose new hypotheses on understanding public acceptance for electricity theft. The first is that electricity theft is more acceptable when electricity supply quality is poor and household income levels are low, i.e. the social acceptability of electricity theft as a crime is a function of the electricity supply and income situations. Where supply quality is poor, and poverty is rampant, citizens are likely to be more forgiving of electricity theft as opposed to regions with relatively higher income and better supply quality. Religion and caste dissimilarity could be additional drivers. The second is that stronger trust among local residents, billing agents, and electricity officials reduce theft acceptability and alter payment preferences. Finally, we posit that there exists significant rural-urban attitude differences on electricity theft.

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