Loha, a 28-year-old electrician lives in Kanpur, a city of 3 million, which suffers from power cuts that last up to 15 hours. Renowned for his prowess in stealing electricity, he is a robin-hood figure who steals electricity and charges the rich to provide free connections in impoverished neighbourhoods. In the face of day-long power-cuts, he runs illegal connections from one neighborhood to another so that homes, factories and businesses can function normally.
On the other hand, Ritu, the first female chief and new to the Kanpur Electricity Supply Company (KESCO), is working on a mission to eliminate powerlessness. Electricity-theft accounts for nearly 30 percent of all losses to KESCO, aggravating the crisis, and Ritu has constituted a new task force to tackle this miscreancy. KESCO organizes an annual cleanup of all illegal electricity connections. Officials together with police forces try and disconnect all the illegal connections that Loha and other electricians like him, set up.
Ritu’s efforts to clean up the city and reach out to consumers to chalk a new path forward for Kanpur meets with success. However, with the Indian summer settling in the electricity problem takes on crisis proportions, with dire implications on the citizen’s lives and livelihoods. People take to the streets in demonstrations and sometimes resort to violence. A rising politician takes advantage of the people’s anger.
A picture emerges of a modern dystopia encompassing urban decay and desperation in the lack of electricity. Underlying the localized crisis in Kanpur is the glaring energy poverty in India, where a third of the population is bereft of this basic need, and the rest grapple with power-cuts that dictate their own terms. Powerless puts a lens to an unexplored narrative of one of the world’s fastest developing economies.