Author- Mr. Pallav K. Singh
When the developmental paradigm was stressed upon in the decades of 1940s and 50s, when the world was on the brink of redefining boundaries and when several nations were taking deep breaths of the fresh new air of independence, nobody thought that this very paradigm would grow to become the defining tenet of governance. India was one nation that faced this ideology, hopeful of building itself as a welfare state with a major of its population living in villages. After 70 years of independence, one of India’s dreams was actualized when we announced 100% rural electrification. Leisang village in Manipur became the historic marker for India’s dreams and aspirations.
However, this achievement gave way to varied political discourses supporting and contradicting the claim and questioning the standards. We can look at rural electrification in India as a tale of three converging fatalisms and delve into the epochs of it.
The first one is of the citizens being aware and disgruntled of the convenient narratives peddled to them in the past 65 years. Rural electrification didn’t find itself at the center of any of the earlier Five-Year Plans or the visions of democratic socialism released by the Indian government. What this idea of electrification did encounter were evolving standards and a subtle ode to Foucalt’s idea of ‘Governmentality’ as the way where governments try to produce citizens best suited to fulfill that government’s policies.
A mere 3,000 of more than 500,000 Indian villages had an electric pole in 1950. Only 18% of India’s villages were electrified by 1970. By the mid-1980s, there was an electric pole in two-third of Indian villages. From the 1980s to 1997, a village was deemed to be ‘electrified’ if any electricity at all was being used within the village’s ‘revenue area’ for any purpose. After 1997, a village could be classified as ‘electrified’ if any electricity was being used within the ‘inhabited locality’ of the village’s revenue boundary.
In early 2004, in accordance with the Electricity Act 2003, the first NDA government completely revamped the standards to deem a rural area as electrified. This gave way to three basic defining principles which are used even today—
1) “Basic infrastructure such as a distribution transformer should be made available within the inhabited locality of the village’s revenue boundary”. This parameter encountered the previous policies of merely connecting multiple villages with a single pole and laid down the foundation of stricter grass root level implementation.
2) “Any public place such a school, panchayat office, health center, dispensary, community center, etc. should be able to avail of power supply on demand”. This was the parameter that defined electricity and its need as a welfare concept for communities and strengthened the concept of community centers.
3) “The number of households electrified should be minimum 10% for villages which are un-electrified, before the village is declared electrified”.
The second fatalism was the multi-directional approach that the NDA-II government used to address the issue. The government focused on laying a strong foundation and approached it through the concrete tools like intensive electrification and strong foundation changes to address the issues of load factor and ineffective discoms (distribution companies).
Discoms faced multiple challenges, ranging from revenue losses due to high costs of power procurement to power theft and irregularity and delay in disbursement of state subsidies assured to domestic and agriculture consumers. The Modi government’s display of political fortitude and attempt to address discoms’ financial stress via the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) became a game changer in the industry when it was rolled out in 2015.
When the groundwork was laid down for a strong implementation framework, a two pronged approach addressing both rural electrification and intensive electrification was launched. There are still certain households which live in darkness. The government is committed to reaching households through the Saubhagya scheme by 31 December 2018—a deadline that has been moved up from 31 March 2019. The project’s ambition is praiseworthy and looking at the track record of this government, hopefully real.
Electrification schemes like Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) and Saubhagya schemes have focused on establishing severe and effective village electricity infrastructure. DDUGJY, for example, provided electricity access to the remaining 18,452 inhabited villages. Data accessed from the Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd (REC), shows considerable progress in intensive electrification under the current government. GARV is the power ministry’s Grameen Vidyutikaran dashboard which showcases periodic updates and the grass root level implementation of the government electrification schemes. Only after the achievement of 100% rural electrification, the government is setting the bar higher through the Saubhagya Scheme. The next step now is to provide electricity connections to more than 40 million families in rural and urban areas by December 2018.
The scheme seen as the road ahead forms the third fatalism which is the recognition of electricity as a welfare tool, power diplomacy and the future paradigms of energy. The scheme funds the cost of last-mile connectivity to willing households and will provide the architecture through which the government seeks to reduce import of fossil fuels, boost underutilized power plants and meet its climate change commitments. By providing universal access to electricity under the scheme, the government plans to leverage the same to promote induction cooking, heating and charging electric vehicles, apart from the initial target of providing lighting.
India is coming up as a global leader for electrification, as Sub–Saharan countries and Middle–Eastern countries like Jordan are looking towards us to help them achieve the dream of 100% electrification. India aims to take the mantle of global leadership through a deeper understanding of global constructs such as the ‘Energy Plus’ Program. As per the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) recommended “Energy Plus” approach, supply of electricity only for lighting is a necessary but not sufficient condition for rural livelihood development. This framework emphasizes on energy access in combination with productive use of electricity for income generation and livelihood upliftment.
Author is a data science entrepreneur and a government consultant.