India File

India File: Whose line is it anyway?

Richa Mishra Debabrata Das | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 23, 2016

Line to home Though the electricity poles are up, few houses in this Aravalli mountain range have access to power DEEPIKA GANDHI

BL24_IF_Village_electrification.eps

The Narendra Modi government has shown intent in pushing for rural electrification, but the devil lies in the detail, write Richa Mishra and Debabrata Das

Soon after taking over at the helm of the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at a function in Solapur, Maharashtra. Sharing one of his visions, Modi said, “Many elections have been fought in our country on this issue and the issue is BSP. I am not talking about the political party. BSP stands for bijli (electricity), sadak (road), and paani (water)…Today, neither a doctor nor a teacher, or a government official is ready to stay back in a village. They return to the city by evening, as there is no electricity in the villages…Our government dreams to provide electricity 24x7 for all 365 days.”

A year later, on August 15, Modi announced that remaining un-electrified villages in the country would be connected with power within 1,000 days.  

The clock started ticking, and the Power Ministry went on a mission mode to implement Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) to electrify 18,452 villages in 19 states. As on May 20, over 10,000 of those villages were electrified, according to the Minister of Power, Piyush Goyal.

The legacy

But can the government take full credit for the rural electrification drive? Not really. The seeds of the programme were sown during the Congress-led UPA government. The Modi government has subsumed the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) in the Deen Dayal scheme. The programme is being implemented by Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) in association with States.

Ask Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia, who held the power portfolio during the Congress regime, and pat comes the response: “We connected close to 80,000-90,000 villages across the country, they are now talking about the balance.”

Even the definition of electrification has not changed – at least 10 per cent of the total number of households in the village should be electrified.

And, how does the Centre decide whether the village or hamlet is electrified? According to the REC, once basic infrastructure such as distribution transformer and lines are set up and electricity is provided to public places such as schools and community centres, the village is marked as electrified.

Convincing the states is not an easy task. The Centre can only work as a facilitator. Uttar Pradesh, one of the states which had the highest number of un-electrified villages, has hinted about the lack of cooperation from the Centre. Goyal doesn't think so. “…this is not true. Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of UP, had said even during the signing of the UDAY scheme that the State Government will benefit and he had assured me that central government and state government will work together.” Between 2012 and 2014 only three villages were electrified in Uttar Pradesh. “Since we came to power, we have electrified 1,300 villages. Under the DDUGJY, ₹6,946.87 crore has been sanctioned to Uttar Pradesh; and ₹4,721 crore under Integrated Power Development Scheme. This is the highest for a state. Unfortunately, they have not utilised the previous sanctions,” he claims.  Odisha had the highest number of un-electrified villages in the country - 3,474 as on April 1, 2015. In last one year 1,264 villages have been electrified.

Tracking system

To track the progress, the GARV app was launched on October 14, 2015. But apps can go wrong. For example, three villages that were un-inhabited were shown as electrified. “Once this was brought to our notice, we put in place a system of verifying the data where an official visits the place and verifies it,” says Goyal. The officials are electrical engineers called Gram Vidyut Abhiyanta (GVA), and were deployed in 18,452 villages.

The GVAs were to visit these villages and capture the milestone-wise progress along with photographs of works using the GARV app. Despite the improvement in the monitoring, ground reality can still be different. The reasons could vary from lack of state participation – as electricity is a state subject, less enthusiasm by infrastructure providers (distribution utilities given their financial health), and finally buyers shying away fearing cost of connection and high electricity bill.

In fact, some villages or hamlets where the government has laid the infrastructure, people are still not taking connections because of the cost. Be it in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, or even Rajasthan, the story is the same; and even the central government acknowledges the issues. This is compelling the government to consider a subsidy mechanism that will allow households to buy power at low rates.

Something similar was planned by the UPA government where the real beneficiaries were to be the state governments and, through them, the end consumers. This could help as people appreciate the intent, but believe that till costs are not addressed, little changes for them.

Published on May 23, 2016
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