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Last Updated : Aug 25, 2018 04:32 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Podcast | Digging deeper: A look at India’s total electrification project

On this episode of Digging Deeper with Moneycontrol, we will fact-check not just the official claim that total electrification of all the villages in India has been achieved but also explore a brief history of how we have come this far. Or exactly just how far we have come.

India is a sprawling reality with layers of multiple economic and social realities and during the struggle for independence, slogans like "karo ya maro', "Inquilab Zindabad," "angrezon bharat chhodo," worked like dabs of magic glue to unify the country in the embodiment of a single ideal, "poorna swaraj" or complete freedom and self-governance.

Post independence, slogans like "jai jawan, jai kissan," "aaram haram hai," "India shining" and more have during different times in history captured the mood and priorities of the nation. Over time though, a vast majority of Indians have become jaded with sloganeering and manifesto promises because of the way election propaganda often has more momentum than grass root change. Take the idea of total electrification in India that over 71 years after independence seems like a given but what exactly is the ground reality?


This is Rakesh and today on Digging Deeper with Moneycontrol, we will fact-check not just the official claim that total electrification of all the villages in India has been achieved but also explore a brief history of how we have come this far. Or exactly just how far we have come.

How it began

According to information available in the public domain, of the 1.4 billion people in the world who have no access to electricity, India accounts for over 160 million, some 32 million homes.  The International Energy Agency estimates India will add between 600 GW to 1,200 GW of additional new power generation capacity before 2050.

India's tryst with electricity though began when the first demonstration of an electric light in Calcutta was conducted on 24 July 1879 by P.W. Fleury & Co.  According to www.gseva.in, on 7 January 1897, Kilburn & Co secured the Calcutta electric lighting license as agents of the Indian Electric Co, which was registered in London on 15 January 1897. A month later, the company was renamed the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation. The control of the company was transferred from London to Calcutta only in 1970. Enthused by the success of electricity in Calcutta, power was thereafter introduced in Bombay (now Mumbai).  Mumbai saw electric lighting demonstration for the first time in 1882 at Crawford Market and the Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company (BEST) set up a generating station in 1905 to provide electricity for the tramway.

Wikipedia informs that the first hydroelectric installation in India was installed near a tea estate at Sidrapong for the Darjeeling Municipality in 1897. The first electric street light in Asia was lit on 5 August 1905 in Bangalore.

Post-independence says Wiki, India began utilizing grid management on a regional basis in the 1960s. We quote," Individual State grids were interconnected to form 5 regional grids covering mainland India. The grids were the Northern, Eastern, Western, North Eastern and Southern Grids. These regional links were established to enable transmission of surplus electricity between States in each region. In the 1990s, the Indian government began planning for a national grid. Regional grids were initially interconnected by asynchronous high-voltage, direct current, back-to-back links facilitating a limited exchange of regulated power. The links were subsequently upgraded to high capacity synchronous links."

Wiki further informs, "The first interconnection of regional grids was established in October 1991 when the North Eastern and Eastern grids were interconnected. The Western Grid was interconnected with the aforementioned grids in March 2003. The Northern grid was also interconnected in August 2006, forming a Central Grid synchronously connected operating at one frequency. The sole remaining regional grid, the Southern Grid, was synchronously interconnected to the Central Grid on 31 December 2013 with the commissioning of the 765 kV Raichur-Solapur transmission line, thereby establishing the National Grid."

By the end of the calendar year 2015, despite poor hydroelectricity generation, India had become a power surplus nation with huge electric power generation capacity idling for want of power demand.

Wiki further adds that on March 29, 2017, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) stated that for the first time India has become a net exporter of electricity. India exported 5,798 GWh to neighbouring countries, against a total import of 5,585 GWh.

So yes, we have come a long way from that time in 1947, when just about 1500 villages were electrified in India. Considering how vast our rural population is, rural electrification was not as fast as the development pace in urban India and things picked up only around 1991. As per Central Electricity Authority, 481124 villages were electrified by 1991 but due to de-electrification of some of the villages, this number came down to 474982 by 2004.

What was the cause of the de-electrification of villages?

Well, lack of adequate resources in State Power Distribution Utilities because of which the high-cost maintenance of infrastructure in far-flung, low-density rural areas, became difficult.

We quote, indiaenergy.gov.in, "The Ministry of Power launched Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) in April 2005 with an objective to provide access to electricity to all rural households through the creation of rural electricity infrastructure comprising of Rural Electricity Distribution Backbone, Village Electricity Infrastructure, and Decentralized Distribution Generation & Supply System. Under RGGVY, households belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL) were to be provided connections free of cost. Ninety percent of capital subsidy was to be provided by Government of India for projects under the scheme. RGGVY was initially approved with a capital subsidy of Rs.5,000 Crore for the last two years of the 10th Plan period ending March 2007 and continued in 11th Plan with a capital subsidy of Rs.28,000 Crore."

The same report states that the pace of rural electrification continued to be a source of concern and as on March 31, 2012, electrification works in 104,496 un-electrified villages, intensive electrification in 248,553 partially electrified villages had been completed and free electricity connections to 194.25 lakh BPL households had been released under RGGVY which started in April 2005.

The report states that during 2013-14, RGGVY was approved for its continuation in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Plan wherein the task was to complete spillover works of project sanctioned in Tenth and Eleventh Plan and to cover the remaining villages, habitations (with population 100 & above) and BPL households. The outlay approved under RGGVY was carried forward by the current government in addition to its own outlay.

Where we are now

On 28 April 2018, 12 days ahead of the set target, all Indian villages, said the government,  were electrified powered by the separation of feeder lines (rural households & agricultural) and the strengthening of transmission and distribution infrastructure. As we said before, the earlier scheme for rural electrification viz. Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) was subsumed in the new scheme as its rural electrification component.

As of 15 August 2018, 195.5 million rural households were provided with electricity, which is 89 percent of the 219 million total rural households.

Here is where some intent reading of the fine print is necessary because electrification of villages does not necessarily mean the electrification of households and there is also the question of consistent and reliable power availability which needs to be examined closely.

Many articles in the public domain, including one in The Wire,  says and we quote, "as per the Union power ministry’s definition, a village is said to be electrified if at least 10 percent of the households in it have power connections and if electricity is provided in public places such as schools, panchayat offices, health centres and community centres. This is why even though 100 percent electrification of villages has been achieved, government data shows that as of today, there are still 31 million households without electricity. In states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Assam, fewer than 60 percent of households have electricity. In 12 out of the 30 states, fewer than 80 percent of the households have been electrified."

Another promise has been made to deliver uninterrupted power supply to all households by March 2019,  and it remains to be seen if this goal will be achieved not just in intent but in reality.

In this age of vibrant social media, a resident of Sirathu village, Uttar Pradesh, even replied to the 100 percent electrification claim on Twitter, saying that despite several requests electrification in his village had not yet been achieved.

Many residents in Odisha's villages also claimed to news sources that they have never experienced electricity and have relied on oil-based lanterns in a sequence that seems out of  Ashutosh Gowarikar's Swades.

News18 revealed that a few villages, just a few kilometres from the capital Patna, are also dependent on lanterns as they are electrified only on paper. State chief minister Nitish Kumar had on November 27, 2017, before the centre made an announcement, said that power supply in all revenue villages had been achieved. Many villages have poles and transformers but no electricity running in them.

India Today found that many villages in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand are yet to be electrified. Jharkhand CM Raghubar Das had claimed two years ago that electricity poles were installed in Saprum village, about 90 km from Jharkhand. The poles, however, remain powerless.

A similar report was posted from the north-east and News18 reported that villages like Tengasot, Badaril have lived without electricity since independence.

Comparisons are odious and each government comes with its own challenges but we have already traced the journey of electrification in India and it bears repeating and multiple news reports state that between 2005 and 2014, during the years of UPA-I and UPA-II governments, over 1,082,280 villages were connected to the grid and connections were provided to over 20 million households, out of which 19 million were given free connections.

So logically, when the current government announced its new rural electrification scheme, only 18,452 villages were without power supply.  It is interesting to note also that villages are considered electrified if they have poles and distribution lines, even if non-functioning.

We quote The Wire, "This meant that on average, the UPA electrified 12,030 villages per year while the current government electrified 4,842. Granted, most of the 18,000 odd villages the current administration had to tackle are in far-flung areas and remote locations, making its task doubly harder. And to its credit, in 2016-17, 6,015 villages were electrified, five times more than what was done by the UPA-II in 2013-14."

The current scheme also focused on what it calls “intensive electrification” and claims have been made that while 99.8 percent of census villages had been electrified, “intensive electrification” had been completed in around 80 percent of villages.

But a Livemint analysis shows that even in five states that reported the biggest rise in rural household electrification rate, four of them had also reported a decline in the total number of households due to re-estimation exercises carried out by the state power distribution companies.  Therefore, adds Wire, a good chunk of the increase may have come due to downwardly re-estimating the number of rural households in a particular state.

Also, total electrification necessarily means delivering uninterrupted power to every household and that milestone is yet to be achieved.

There is also the question of whether villagers, who have preferred paying a fixed amount for monthly electricity consumption rather than for actual consumption, will take to the new scheme.

It cannot also be disregarded that most power distribution companies (discoms) struggle with their financial turnaround plans, says The Wire,  and unable to charge cost-reflective tariffs, discoms have been resorting to widespread load-shedding to check their operational losses.

There are other issues too and state-owned Coal India has struggled to supply adequate coal to power plants, leaving half of the installed coal-based generation capacity reeling under depleted fuel stocks, says the same article.

We quote, "With India depending on coal to meet more than 60 percent of its electricity requirement and coal production stagnating, how the government will fulfill its promise of uninterrupted power supply remains a puzzle."

We are almost in a nudging distance from the next Lok Sabha elections, and this just may be a time ripe for more sweeping promises and claims. But the need of the hour like always is less tokenism and more commitment to connect the sleeping giant that is rural India to the development engine powering urban India. Because, only when all Indians can see the light, will we grow as one, cohesive nation.
First Published on Aug 24, 2018 08:58 pm