NEW DELHI: The government move to keep Chinese companies out of power transmission and distribution (T&D) projects couldn’t have come any sooner. Industry data shows Chinese companies have been making steady inroads into the strategic sector, winning contracts for installing intelligent control systems in parts of the national grid and at least 46 city networks between August 2016 and March this year.

Chengdu-based Dongfang Electric Corporation, one of China’s ‘backbone enterprise groups’ directly administered by Beijing, alone bagged SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) contracts for 23 cities across five states and a Union Territory.

ZTT, Shenzen SDG Information Company and Tongguan Group together won 23 contracts from DISCOMS and state-run PowerGrid, which operates the national transmission network, for installing real-time data acquisition system — also known as ‘reliable communication through optical ground wire’.

T&D networks form the backbone of any power system. SCADA and real-time communications systems are the nerve centres that make networks ‘smart’. That’s why sanctity of these systems are important for grid security.

“In connected systems, intelligent equipment talk to each other and exchange data and information, making the system more efficient but at the same time increasing the vulnerability if exposed to suspect individuals, companies and nations which may use such access to their advantage,” Indian Electrical Equipment Manufacturers’ Association director-general Sunil Misra told TOI.

The power ministry had on July 3 banned equipment imports from China without permission. It also mandated imported T&D equipment be tested at designated laboratories for embedded malware or spyware — a common perception about Chinese gear.

The move, even though part of economic retaliation against China’s border transgressions in Ladakh, marked an acknowledgement of possible vulnerabilities with Chinese equipment.

IEEMA had written to the national security adviser and the ministry in 2017 to point out India’s transmission system becoming vulnerable to hacking due to expanding Chinese footprint.

Later that year, the state power ministers conference decided to conduct a countrywide cyber security audit of T&D systems.

These warnings followed protests over Chinese companies bagging a slew of big-ticket contracts for power station hardware as India rushed to ramp up generation capacity.