On April 28, 2018, India crossed a very important social milestone—that of achieving 100 per cent village electrification. The Prime Minister, in his Independence Day speech of 2015, had vowed that all the then non-electrified villages, numbering 18,452, will be electrified in 1,000 days thence, which worked out to May 11, 2018. The government announced that with the electrification of Leisang village in Manipur, all villages now stand electrified. Thus, the 1,000-day electrification target was achieved with around 12 days to spare.
The Leisang village is located in Churachandpur sub-division of Manipur’s Churachandpur district. According to Census 2011 data, the village has barely 38 families residing with a total population of just 224 people. Most of the inhabitants are tribals.
When the PM announced that 18,452 villages would be electrified within 1,000 days, it meant electrifying at least 18 villages per day. This was considered to be an unprecedented feat given that the pace of village electrification had fallen sharply, especially in the three years immediately preceding BJP’s coming to power.
According to statistics compiled by T&D India, largely from the Union power ministry, in FY14, the number of villages electrified stood at 1,197. This metric moved up marginally to 1405 in FY15. The complete village electrification mission was announced on August 15, 2015, which was during FY16. A total of 7,108 villages were electrified in FY16 followed by 6,015 villages in FY17. In FY18, the number of villages electrified fell to 3,736. This fall was only “statistical” in nature because the sheer number of villages, left to be electrified, itself was shrinking.
The 100 per cent village electrification issue has been widely discussed in the media. The issue has also acquired a political dimension with arguments and counter arguments between the BJP and the Congress, about taking credit for the achievement.
As discussed earlier, in the few years preceding the announcement, the pace of village electrification had dropped significantly. However, in the two years or so following the announcement, village electrification set off at a furious pace. For this, due credit should be given.
When it comes to the Congress rule, what is most noteworthy is that the pace of village electrification was generally very high, except for the last few years before the BJP came into power. For instance, in FY07, a phenomenal 28,706 villages were electrified, translating to over 75 villages per day. This is a record achievement. Even in the XI Plan period (FY08 to FY12), the average number of villages electrified stood at a commendable 13,000 per year.
The achievement of “100 per cent village electrification” is not true in the literal sense. It certainly does not mean that all villages have complete electrification. The accomplishment hinges on definitions of an “electrified village” and, for that matter, also that of a “village.”
By extant definition, which came into effect with the Rural Electrification Policy of 2006, a village is said to be electrified when (1) basic infrastructure such as distribution transformer and distribution lines are provided in the inhabited locality as well as the locality inhabited by weaker sections of the society/hamlet where it exists (2) electricity is provided to public places like schools, panchayat office, health centres, dispensaries, community centres etc.; and (3) the number of households electrified should be at least 10 per cent of the total number of households in the village.
Hence, one can only claim that all the 5.98 lakh villages in India (as per Census 2011) have at least 10 per cent of their households equipped with an electricity connection. It must also be observed that a village stands “electrified” even if it is electrified through off-grid electricity, typically solar power. This is true of several remotely located villages where grid connectivity would be impracticable and commercially inefficient.
The other definition that comes into picture is that of a “village” as per the Census. There were some reports that despite the claim of 100 per cent electrification, there were some “villages” without electricity. The government has clarified that such inhabitations, construed as “villages”, were actually sub-village inhabitations like hamlets (bastis), dhanis, majras, tolas, etc, and not Census villages.
Village versus Household
On August 15, 2015, when the complete village electrification mission was announced, it was found that 18,452 villages were non-electrified. Considering that India has around 6 lakh villages, it meant that just 3 per cent of the villages were non-electrified. All the same, nearly 30 per cent of the population was without electricity. This is where “village electrification” loses its meaning. Village electrification, within the context of its definition, is only a useful starting point, which ensures that electrification, at least in some measure, is seen nationwide.
The ultimate objective would of course be to have electrification in every household. This is where the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya), which was launched on October 11, 2017, is of paramount importance. The aim of Saubhagya is to achieve universal household electrification (both rural and urban) by December 31, 2018. The scheme has an outlay of Rs.16,320 crore that includes gross budgetary support of Rs.12,320 crore from the Central government. Rural Electrification Corporation is the national nodal agency for Saubhagya scheme.
India has an estimated 18 crore households (both rural and urban), out of which 14.33 crore households were electrified as of October 10, 2017, which is just before Saubhagya was launched. Saubhagya’s aim is therefore to electrify 3.65 crore households before December 31, 2018.
According to the official Saubhagya web portal, accessed on May 3, 2018, the total number of households electrified since the launch of Saubhagya was 52.39 lakh. Over half of these households were in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Another 13 per cent of these households electrified were in Bihar.
As of early May 2018, the total task ahead of Saubhagya was to electrify 3.12 crore households within the stated deadline of December 31, 2018. The highest quantum of work lies in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand. Uttar Pradesh still has 1.32 crore households without electricity connection; the extent of non-electrification is still over 44 per cent. Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 42.4 per cent of India’s total non-electrified households. Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand account for roughly 10 per cent each. Assam and Rajasthan come next in order in terms of their share in India’s non-electrified households.
On the positive side, states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Gujarat and Goa have 100 per cent household electrification. Maharashtra, West Bengal, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh today have household electrification upwards of 95 per cent.
In many respects, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha will be the three states that will determine the fate (bhagya) of the Saubhagya scheme. Uttar Pradesh has seen the electrification of 14.03 lakh households since the launch of Saubhagya, which is a period of 200 days. By the stated deadline of December 31, 2018, as many as 1.32 crore households in the northern state will need to be electrified. In other words, electrification will need to accelerate to an improbable level of over 50,000 households per day. Uttar Pradesh could end up missing its target but thanks to Saubhagya, the northern state is witnessing electrification at a rate that is unprecedented. When Saubhagya was launched, the extent of household electrification in UP was 51 per cent. As of May 1, 2018, it had reached 56 per cent. For a populous state like UP, this 5 percentage point jump—and that too in a matter of just about 200 days—is very significant.
(Featured photograph sourced from Tata Steel)
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