Anil Sasi

New Delhi, Oct. 10

THE Government has zeroed in on five variants of the `franchisee model' for executing rural electrification projects.

The models are being put to test currently in hamlets in Orissa, Assam, Karnataka, West Bengal and Nagaland.

The Power Ministry plans to replicate the successful models across the country on a larger scale to achieve complete household electrification over the next five years.

The Ministry, which is betting heavily on the franchisee model whereby local bodies such as cooperatives, individual entrepreneurs and panchayats are involved in the execution or management of rural electrification projects for a fee, has kicked off work on `site-specific' models.

For instance, in Assam, `single point supply through user associations' is being tried out, under which inhabitants of a cluster of villages form an association, which handles power distribution from the feeder level onwards.

The association, which gets an outlay from the Government for setting up new connections and for the upkeep of the system, is also entrusted with the task of collecting charges from users.

In rural Karnataka, a `Gram Vidyut Pratinidhi' model is being tried out under which a person is chosen by the villagers, on the lines of a chief executive, and is given the responsibility of overseeing the work of the State-owned utilities. In the Sunderbans, an `off-grid solution' model is being experimented with, under which a cooperative formed by villagers would set up stand-alone power generating systems such as bagasse-fuelled captive units.

The cooperative has to collect charges from users , part of which goes into paying back the investments incurred by the Government on setting up the unit.

In Nagaland, a model involving `Village Electricity Management Boards' is being tried out.

In West Bengal, self-help groups and non-governmental organisations have been roped in to oversee the implementation of the rural electrification projects.

"The basic aim of all the franchisee models being tested out currently is to include the local population as much as possible in the planning and execution of the projects that the State funds.

"Also, with the end-users becoming stakeholders in the projects, the collection efficiency goes up in a big way and operating these projects becomes sustainable in the long run," a Government official said.

Till now, rural electrification projects have not made much headway, since there have not been too private sector players willing to execute them.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 11, 2005)
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