Electrifying Rural India?

By: Nitin Mehta & Pranav Gupta
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In his second Independence Day address to the nation in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised that the government would provide electricity to all 18,452 unelectrified villages in the country within 1000 days. The Power Ministry promises to provide 24 x 7 electricity across the country. To fulfil this objective, the government not only needs to augment the generation capacity but also create the necessary infrastructure for electricity supply in rural areas.

Electrifying Rural India?

Laying the ground work

A few weeks before making the bold promise at Red Fort, the Prime Minister had formally launched the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). This is the government's flagship programme for rural electrification. Launched with an objective of ensuring universal rural electrification, the programme subsumes earlier central government initiatives like the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana. One of the principal initiatives under the DDUGJY is feeder line separation across the country. Implemented in Gujarat in 2006 through the once contentious Jyoti Gram Yojana, feeder separation had enabled Gujarat to transform rural electricity supply in the state.

The GARV portal

In this article, we shall present a brief analysis of publicly available data on the GARV portal. The portal ensures a critical dimension of policy making - public accountability and transparency by providing real time updates on the progress. Any citizen with a smart phone or internet access can track the progress on rural electrification. As detailed information is given about each electrified village - date of electrification, details of local linemen, photographs of installed poles etc., it allows cross checking of the aggregate figures and overall progress claimed by the government. Numerous journalists and researchers have tried to match the information released on the portal with ground realities. Fortunately, the government has indeed been receptive in making amends in case of discrepancies. Recently, the portal was expanded to include progress on providing electricity connections to rural households.

Steady progress on the 1000 day target

The Prime Minister's 1000 days deadline for electrifying the 18452 unelectrified villages finishes in May 2018. Until now, 13598 villages (74% of the target) have been electrified. We find that the average annual increase in electrified villages under DDUGY is much lower than RGGVY. Between 2005 and 2012, more than more than 1 lakh villages had been electrified across the country. The average annual increase under RGGVY was much higher as compared to the last two years. However,these figures are incomparable as the set of unelectrified villages differs sharply. There may be a reason why it was these particular 18,000 villages were remained unelectrified under the RGGVY. This set is likely to constitute villages which are relatively inaccessible or remote and may be requiring greater efforts. For instance, more than 7200 of the unelectrified villages are located in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts and the government has already electrified 5930 of these. Thus, lower annual increase under DDUGY may not be unexpected.

The government's role doesn't end at merely creating the necessary electricity supply infrastructure in the villages and connecting them to the grid. All households and habitations within the village must be provided electricity. Out of the total target of electrifying 17.9 crore households, 13.4 crore households (74%) have been electrified uptill now. All households are electrified in only 1.65 lakh villages (27%) out of 6.04 lakh villages in the country.

Conclusion

To fulfil the dream of 24 x 7 electricity, the Power Ministry needs to ensure that the generation capacity also increases gradually. As the supply infrastructure expands, demand will naturally increase and we need to ensure that our generation capacity increases accordingly. After a stage, the centre has limited role in expanding electrification as electricity supply is undertaken by the states.

Thus, a lot depends on synchronization in the efforts made by the centre and the state. Recent attempts under the Modi government like the UDAY programme aimed at reducing discom debts are also likely to be extremely helpful in this regard.

(Nitin Mehta is managing partner, Ranniti Consulting and Research. Pranav Gupta is an independent researcher.)

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