Electrification target

With Leisang village in Manipur getting electrified, the Centre has claimed to have achieved the 100 percent electrification target. “Yesterday, we fulfilled a commitment due to which the lives of several Indians will be changed forever,” PM Modi tweeted last Sunday, saying he was delighted that every single village of India now has electricity. While this is no insignificant achievement, this impressive statistics cannot be used to prop up misplaced myths and stereo-types or allow the present central government to privilege itself in a self-glorification spree. First of all, hundred percent electrification does not result in 100 percent electricity to all households. The yardstick for electrification of a village is taken to be ten households, which sometimes is a meagre and insignificant fraction of the total number of houses in a village. According to the rural electrification policy, a village is deemed electrified if basic infrastructure, such as a transformer and distribution lines, have been set up in the inhabited locality. It is nobody’s business to check whether or not these are in working order and maintained on a regular basis. A report in a national daily pointed out that despite the 100% electrification claims an estimated 3.14 crore rural households are still without any access to electricity. These comprise about 17% of the total 17.99 crore rural households. Some of the worst hit states are Bihar with 25.64% of rural households without electricity, 44.2% in Uttar Pradesh, 43.3% in Assam, 52.25% in Jharkhand and 36.34% in Odisha. These are estimates made available on the Ministry of Power’s official website. Secondly, electrification does not necessarily mean electric supply and power availability. The country is riddled with a massive problem of gap between demand and supply in the major urban areas and the grim reality is that many villages remain steeped in darkness, sometimes for months together, despite being electrified. While power generation is in shortfall, electric supply is also hit by damaged transformers and transmission lines, particularly in the northeast region including Nagaland severely almost as a routine. The scheduled and unscheduled power curtailments have become too normalized across the country, more so in the rural areas where the powerless poor do not even have a say or voice. Thirdly, the Narendra Modi government has been wrongly projecting the rural electrification mission having been accomplished entirely during its rule. One would need a magic wand to perform that kind of a magic in a country like India. The rural electrification project has been a long winding process since 1947. The biggest ever number of villages electrified began in the decade beginning from 2005 by the UPA regime under the Rajeev Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana. The Modi led NDA government simply rehashed that electrification scheme and launched its version of the village electrification scheme Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). By the time BJP came to power, the Congress led UPA had been successful in connecting over 1,082,280 villages to the grid and connections were provided to over 20 million households, out of which 19 million were given free connections. Only an estimated 18,452 unelectrified villages were left in the country. The BJP government added another 1200 villages to these unelectrified villages. If statistics have to be the yardstick for claiming achievements, certainly the Modi government’s record pales into insignificance before the Congress record. The BJP government has no right to blow the trumpet of 100% electrification as the work on this front has been in progress in the previous decades, at a much bigger war-footing. More importantly, in real terms, India’s rural areas are yet to get the real taste of electrification. Rather than indulging in chest thumping, the government should think of ways in which to address the gap between the demand and supply and the lacunae like ill-maintained transmission lines and over-loaded transformers that come in the way of a vision of Indian with 100% power supply.