All villages electrified, but darkness pervades

As per the government’s 2006 rural electrification policy, a village is deemed ‘electrified’ if basic infrastructure such as distribution transformer and distribution lines has been set up in the inhabited locality, including a ‘Dalit basti’.

Written by Deepak Patel | New Delhi | Published:September 14, 2016 3:44 am
electrification policy, Rural Electrification Corporation, Rural Electrification scheme, condition of villages, condition of indian villages, poverty, cost of electricity,  indian express news, india news A closer look at the electrification data from the hinterland  shows that a sizeable number of the households in villages across most states are still in the dark, without access to electricity. Source: Pradeep Kocharekar

If government data is anything to go by, nearly all villages in the country — or 98.7 per cent of them, to be precise — have been electrified.

A closer look at the electrification data from the hinterland — especially from states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand and Odisha — shows that a sizeable number of the households in villages across most states are still in the dark, without access to electricity.

For instance, the 97.9 per cent, 99.5 per cent and 95.3 per cent of the villages in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Assam, respectively, have been deemed ‘electrified’, as per the Central government data. Yet, as per the data provided by the governments of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Assam, 82.84 per cent, 72.97 per cent and 62.93 per cent of their rural households, respectively, are still without any access to electricity.

Why is this the case?

The answer somewhere lies in the way ‘village electrification’ is defined.

As per the government’s 2006 rural electrification policy, a village is deemed ‘electrified’ if basic infrastructure such as distribution transformer and distribution lines has been set up in the inhabited locality, including a ‘Dalit basti’. Moreover, at least 10 per cent of the households of such a village should have access to electricity through the basic infrastructure established. Nowhere does the definition talks about actual electricity connection or its supply to the household.

Consequently, as per the data provided to the Centre by the states, out of total 17.19 crore rural households living in 29 states of the country, 35.73 per cent (6.14 crore) are without any access to electricity. The country’s villages are ‘electrified’; their 6.14 crore households are yet to get access to electricity.

On its website, the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) has provided another set of data titled ‘intensive electrification’, which is one step forward after electrification.

“After electrification of the village, intensification works are taken up till 100 per cent households are electrified. Hence, intensification is an ongoing process, not only in these 18,452 villages (which are currently getting electrified under Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana), but also in the villages electrified long ago. Intensification works are also going on in those states where 100 per cent village electrification has already been completed such as Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, etc. Therefore, the percentage of village electrification always differs with the percentage of rural households electrified,” said Dinesh Arora, executive director, REC.

Intensive electrification — which truly shows the extent to which rural households have access to electricity — in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar is 22 per cent, 24 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively. Out of total 7.28 lakh villages which were planned to be ‘intensively electrified’, only 3.77 lakh (52 per cent) have been done till last month. In comparison, 98.7 per cent villages have been electrified till date. REC is the nodal agency to operate and monitor rural electrification and it receives 0.5 per cent of the total project cost as its fees.

The top five states which have got largest number of unelectrified rural households are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand and Odisha. Under rural electrification scheme, the households which are below poverty line (BPL) should get free electricity connections from the government.

The top five states which have got the highest number of unelectrified Below Poverty Line (BPL) households currently are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh and Manipur. As per REC data, only 57 per cent of the country’s rural BPL households have been electrified.

“The infrastructure created under the (rural electrification) scheme is to be energised, operated & maintained by the concerned discom (state power distribution company) to ensure regular power supply to the villagers. The responsibility of releasing electricity connections to individual households including free connections to BPL households also lies with the discom,” said Arora.

Power game

Power belongs to the concurrent list of the Constitution; both Centre and states have a substantial role to play. In rural electrification, the Centre releases the funds through REC to states; it is ultimately the states which have to implement the scheme through their power distribution companies (discoms).

Before the UPA government announced the rural electrification scheme titled Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) in March 2005, the electrification drive was going at a snail’s pace. Just 18,500 villages were electrified in between 1997-02 as compared to 1,20,000 villages electrified in 1980-85. As per the REC data, the number of villages electrified in 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2004-2005 were zero, 122 and 765 respectively. Clearly, most of the schemes were running far off their sanctioned targets.

In the first year of RGGVY, around 10 thousand villages were electrified in 2005-06 itself. Subsequently, 28,706 villages were electrified in 2006-07; 9,301 villages were electrified in 2007-08; 12,056 villages were electrified in 2008-09. The village electrification drive had once again gathered pace.

Meanwhile, the 2001 Census had put the rural household electrification figure at 43.52 per cent. “It is not as if this issue (of household electrification) has not been flagged off earlier. In 2004-05, one of the power ministry’s discussion paper on rural electrification policies had mentioned the fact that even though 80-85 per cent villages have been ‘electrified’ (in 2004), just 42-44 per cent of the rural households truly had the ‘access to electricity’. However, village electrification remained a priority,” said a former power ministry official on the condition of anonymity.

Consequently, the number of rural household electrification by 2011 had just increased to 55.1 per cent, according to Census figures.

By the time NDA came back to power in May 2014, the UPA had already electrified approximately1.05 lakh villages out of 1.25 lakh villages that were unelectrified in 2005. In 2014-15, REC electrified just 1,405 villages. In November 2015, the Union Cabinet approved Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). RGVVY — which dealt purely with electrification — was subsumed under it.

Apart from electrification, the DDUGJY also sanctioned money for separation of feeders for domestic and agricultural usage; strengthening rural electricity distribution structure; metering of feeders, transformers and consumers. “Feeder metering is our priority at present. Metering of distribution transformers and at consumers end can be done later by the states,” said Arora.

As on April 1, 2015, only 18,542 villages remained unelectrified. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech in 2015 announced that these villages will be electrified within the next 1000 days. At the present date, just 7,716 villages are unelectrified. It can be safely said that the each and every village would soon be deemed electrified by the government well before the deadline.

According to sector experts, the rural household electrification is a different ball game altogether as compared to village electrification and it would require reorientation of focus and targets. In June 2016, a conference was held in Goa of Union power minister Piyush Goyal along with all state power ministers. With much enthusiasm, the states said they will provide electricity to every rural household and not just the ones in those 18,452 villages by March, 2019.

Bihar, as per its own estimates, has electrified just 12 per cent (26 lakh) of its rural households in last 15 years. Around 83 per cent of the state’s rural households are without any access to electricity. Yet, the minutes of the Goa meeting noted: “The Honourable Power Minister of Bihar (Bijendra Prasad Yadav) stated that one of the priority of the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Bihar is, ‘har ghar bijli lagataar (uninterrupted electricity to every home)’ and informed that the aim is to electrify each and every household by December, 2018.”

On Tuesday, Andhra Pradesh became the second state in the country after Gujarat to achieve 100 per cent household electrification — rural as well as urban — as per the report of JM Financials.

When Arora was asked as to why some states like Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh have been highly successful in rural household electrification as compared to others, he said, “Rural electrification is a concurrent subject and prime responsibility lies with states. In order to boost rural electrification (villages as well as households) government of India facilitates the state government. However, achievement in the electrification of households is also dependent on the policies of the state government, willingness of the state government, toughness of the geographical area, LWE (left wing extremism) affected area, forest area etc.”

The Central government is soon going to launch a web portal which would show a real time status of household electrification data. Currently, it has written to states asking for re-validation of the data which it already has. 100 per cent village will soon be electrified, but with more than a third of rural households still in the dark, it is clear the Centre and states have a gigantic workload ahead of them.