India PM Modi pledges 24-hour power for Delhi

An Indian cycle rickshaw puller transports a rack of shelves as he speaks on his mobile phone at dusk in New Delhi on Jan 4, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
An Indian cycle rickshaw puller transports a rack of shelves as he speaks on his mobile phone at dusk in New Delhi on Jan 4, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to provide round the clock electricity for India's capital Saturday as he kicked off his party's campaign in elections to Delhi's state assembly.

Delhi has an unenviable reputation both for blackouts and as one of the world's most polluted capitals, with diesel fumes from back-up generators adding to the cocktail of smog that regularly blankets the city.

But in a speech to supporters of his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the prime minister said that he would soon make the generators redundant.

"I promise that I will provide you with a 24-hour supply of electricity," said Modi who came to power after a landslide general election win in May.

Although the situation has improved since an infamous summer of city-wide blackouts in 2012, the Indian capital is still regularly hit by localised power cuts that are seen as hampering economic growth.

India's energy sector is almost entirely state-run and recent moves by the BJP government to open up part of the coal sector to private firms prompted a strike earlier this week.

During his rally, Modi indicated that he wanted to bring in competition into the electricity sector.

"We will introduce a system where you can choose who you want to buy your electricity from, you can select your own service provider in the same way you choose your phone's network provider," said Modi.

Delhi, a city-state of some 17 million people, has been without a proper government since last February, when firebrand anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal quit as chief minister just 49 days after taking power.

While Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party flopped in the general election, he again represents the major obstacle to the BJP's electoral hopes.

The BJP's failure to win control of the Delhi assembly last time round was a major shock and Modi made Kejriwal the main target of his invective, calling the self-styled anarchist a liar and "backstabber".

No date has yet been announced for the Delhi polls, although the election commission is widely expected to fix a date for mid-February in the next few days.