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Electrification

Doubtful claim

Print edition : Mar 29, 2019 T+T-
A torch hangs from a home with no power in a village on the outskirts of Alwar, Rajasthan, India, on April 17, 2018.

A torch hangs from a home with no power in a village on the outskirts of Alwar, Rajasthan, India, on April 17, 2018.

The Modi government’s declaration of electrification of all villages in 25 States, while not taking into account the work done by earlier governments, seems to rest on fudged and cherry-picked statistics.

NARENDRA MODI, when he became the Prime Minister, invented a new method to develop the country. It is a simple and cost-effective path to development, one that he had taken to develop Gujarat. It consists of three strategies: a) fudge data; b) cherry-pick data; and c) hide data from the public domain. There are numerous examples of this new model of development, popularly known as the “Gujarat Model”. Now, there is one more example to add to that long list: the claim that 100 per cent of households in 25 States have electricity connection.

The Annual Report of 1990-91 of the Department of Power, Ministry of Energy, sheds light on some old data. At the time of Independence, fewer than 1,500 villages had electricity in India. In 1951, only 3,061 villages were electrified, and by 1969 electricity had reached 73,739 villages. By the end of November 1991, 4,83,146 villages had been electrified. The report throws up some other interesting figures. Of the 26 States in 1991, all villages in nine States and Union Territories had been electrified. In Tamil Nadu, 99.9 per cent of the villages had been electrified. At the bottom end, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh had only 47 per cent villages electrified. In Uttar Pradesh 73 per cent of the villages and in Bihar 69 per cent had electricity.

But in the next decade, the number of villages with electricity connections fell to 4,74,982 because of de-electrification. Cash strapped electricity boards could not maintain transmission lines and transformers.

In the days since Independence, “a village was deemed to be electrified if electricity is being used within its revenue area for any purpose whatsoever”. The basic idea was to use electricity to enhance irrigation for increased agricultural production. In 1997, the definition was modified slightly to include two additional words: “A village was deemed to be electrified if electricity is used in the inhabited locality  within its revenue area for any purpose whatsoever.”

In 2004, this definition was changed to increase its scope: “A village would be declared electrified if: 1) Basic infrastructure such as distribution transformer and distribution lines are provided in the inhabited locality and Dalit hamlets where it exists. (For electrification through non-conventional methods, a distribution transformer may not be necessary.) 2) Electricity is provided to public places such as schools, panchayat offices, health centres, dispensaries and 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.”

In 2001-02, rural electrification was added to the Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana by the Vajpayee-led government. Funds were allocated by the Centre to the States in the normal pattern of Central assistance: 90 per cent grant and 10 per cent loan for special category States and 30 per cent grant and 70 per cent loan for other States. State electricity boards/power utilities were selected as the implementation agencies and States released the funds to them.

In 1989, in order to provide single point light connection to rural below poverty line (BPL) families, including Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe families, the government started the Kutir Jyoti Scheme. Fund allocation for this programme was based on the extent of the BPL rural population and the level of village electrification in the State. The lower the electrification and higher the BPL and S.C. and S.T. population in the State, the higher the fund allocated.

The Accelerated Rural Electrification Programme (AREP) was launched in 2003-04 to accelerate the electrification of un-electrified villages, rural hamlets and S.C./S.T. villages. Under the scheme, a 4 per cent interest subsidy was given on loans taken by State electricity boards/power utilities or State governments from financial institutions such as the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC), the Rural Infrastructure development Funds (RIDF), and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). 

On disbursement, the Net Present Value (NPV) of the interest subsidies applied. This scheme did not attract much interest and was discontinued after a year.

Vidyutikaran Yojana

In the financial year 2004-05, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government launched a new scheme called “Accelerated Electrification of One lakh Villages and One crore Households” by merging the Kutir Jyoti Scheme and the AREP interest subsidy scheme. The financial structure of the scheme was changed to 40 per cent capital subsidy for rural electrification projects, with the balance 60 per cent coming as a soft loan from the REC.

The Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) was launched in April 2005 and the Accelerated Electrification of One lakh Villages and One crore Households was subsumed into it. The RGGVY redefined all the other rural electricity programmes until then. The UPA government included the RGGVY in its common minimum programme and appointed the REC as the nodal agency instead of the States appointing their electricity boards.

Under the scheme, 90 per cent capital subsidy was provided for rural electrification infrastructure through “1) Creation of Rural Electricity Distribution Backbone (REDB) with one 33/11 kV (or 66/11 kV) substation in every block where it does not exist. 2) Creation of Village Electricity Infrastructure (VEI) for electrification of all un-electrified villages/habitations and provision of distribution transformer(s) of appropriate capacity in every village/habitation. 3) Provision of distribution transformer(s) of appropriate capacity in every village/habitation.” One of the aims of the RGGVY was to give free electricity connections to all un-electrified BPL households.

In May 2014, in a written reply in Parliament, the Minister of State for Power stated: “As on 30.04.2012, against the targeted coverage of 1.10 lakh un/de-electrified villages and release of free electricity connections to 2.30 crore BPL households, electrification works in 1.05 lakh un/de-electrified villages have been completed and 1.95 crore free electricity connections to BPL households have been released under RGGVY.”

By March 31, 2014, REC data show, 1,08,280 un-electrified villages had been electrified under the RGGVY. In the next four years, until March 2018, 17,615 villages were added to the list and the number of electrified villages reached 1,25,895.

Gram Jyoti Yojana

On July 25, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). Basically, it was the RGGVY but with an added component—feeder separation of rural households and agricultural connections. The renamed scheme subsumed the budget provision and allocation meant for the RGGVY. A government notification dated on December 3, 2014, shows that except for the way in which the aim of the programme has been phrased there is not much difference between the two schemes.

On September 25, 2017, Modi launched another scheme, the Saubhagya Yojana. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) release reads: “In this context, he mentioned the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana, which would provide power connections to all the estimated four crore households which currently did not have a power connection. The outlay for this scheme would be over Rs.16,000 crore. These connections would be provided free of cost to the poor, the Prime Minister said.” (The Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana is called Saubhagya Yojana.) The wordings of the press release and the notification of the Ministry of Power read as if this was a new scheme when in fact it was a component that existed in the RGGVY without any change in the implementation policy—free electricity connections to BPL households, a paid service for others. The deadline for the project was set as December 31, 2018.

On April 29, 2018, Modi tweeted that all the villages in India had been electrified by April 28. The problem with the tweet was not that he declared the electrification of all the villages, but that he claimed credit for it. He said “We fulfilled a commitment”, as if everything was started after May 2014, and, as expected, his fans still believe that electricity reached every village in India because of Modi. With just one claim, he appropriated all the work done by successive governments over many decades to reach the milestone.

What exactly was the Modi government’s contribution to this programme? The Saubhagya dashboard (http://saubhagya.gov.in/) says that a total of 6,17,465 villages have been electrified as on January 27, 2019. The Census data of 1991 say that India had 6,34,321 villages. If we take the earlier mentioned numbers of the electrified villages in the annual report of the Department of Power and compare it with the Census data of 1991, it is clear that by 1991, 77.5 per cent of the villages in India already had electricity connections somewhere in the village. The problem was that the infrastructure to transmit that electricity to the entire village was lacking, and even the existing transmission infrastructure was not maintained properly.

 In the next 10 years, the number of villages with electricity increased by 4,044 to 6,38,365. The 2011 Census data show that from 2001 to 2011, the number of villages with electricity increased by 11,851 to 6,50,216. As per this calculation, 32,751 villages were yet to be electrified.

Misleading declaration

The Garv dashboard (http://garv.gov.in/dashboard) shows that 19,679 villages are yet to be electrified as on January 27, 2019 (out of these, 1,270 villages are uninhabited). In comparison with Census data (32,751 villages), that means 13,072 villages have not been counted by the government, and these dashboard numbers are an admission by the government that it is aware of the fact and still declared that all the villages had been electrified. This is how the Modi government fudges or cherry-picks data to advertise its non-existing achievement.

An REC document (https://www.recindia.nic.in/saubhagya) based on government estimates says there were around four crore un-electrified households in India as on September 25, 2017, when the Saubhagya scheme was launched. The REC annual report shows that 2,16,83,554 free electricity connections have been given to poor families since 2005-06 until March 2014. Another 88,26,642 houses were added to the list in the Modi government’s first four years.

These numbers indicate that in the nine years under the UPA government, 24.09 lakh BPL houses were electrified every year on an average and the number stands at 23.70 lakh in the Modi government’s first four years (see Table 2).

A data sheet of the Planning Commission from 2014, based on 2011 Census data, shows that India had a total of 24.67 crore households, of which 16.78 crore households are in rural areas. Out of this, 9.28 crore rural and 7.3 crore urban households had electricity as in 2011. That is, 16.59 crore, or 67.25 per cent, households were electrified and 32.75 per cent, or 8.07 crore, households had no electricity connection.

The REC annual report 2017-18, in its “Chairman’s Message” under the heading “Flagship government programmes” says: “Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya): During the financial year 2017-18, the Government of India notified Saubhagya with the objective of achieving universal household electrification in the country by providing last mile distribution network and electricity connections to all households. On the date of launching the scheme, October 11, 2017, around 3.50 crore households that had remained un-electrified, are targeted for providing electricity connections by December 31, 2018. …With the active support and cooperation of State governments, power utilities and other stakeholders, 40.45 lakh households were electrified up to March 31, 2018, which have crossed the figure of 1.00 crore on August 5, 2018 and the remaining will be electrified by December 31, 2018.”

On December 31, 2018, the Ministry of Power issued a press release stating that 100 per cent household electrification had been achieved in 25 States. The most interesting lines in the release read: “Since launch of Saubhagya, in the State of Uttar Pradesh 74.4 lakh willing households have been electrified and State Government has declared saturation of all 75 districts. …any left out household requiring electricity connection may dial 1912 to avail the facility.”

Bizarre claims

A report published by Hindustan Times,  Lucknow edition, on August 21, 2018, throws up some interesting figures. It says: “Of the total 3,76,55,707 households in U.P., only 2,24,87,787 households had electricity connections as on October 10, 2017 and the balance 1,51,67,920 households were un-electrified when the Saubhagya scheme was launched in the State on October 11, 2017.” In other words, 40.28 per cent of households in Uttar Pradesh were not electrified as in October 2017. The same report mentions that from October 2017 to August 2018, only 24,22,266 households were electrified in the State. So the Union Power Ministry wants us to believe that Uttar Pradesh electrified 1,27,45,654 households in the balance four months to achieve the target, that is, the Adityanath government electrified 1,04,473 houses every day since September 2018!

If we check the data uploaded on the Saubhagya dashboard, things get more bizarre. It shows that 2,86,74,223 houses were electrified and that the State achieved 100 per cent household electrification. If the 2011 Census data are the base for the number of villages and households, it emerges that Uttar Pradesh had 3,29,24,266 households and only 36.8 per cent, or 1,21,16,130 households, had electricity connection. If we go by the numbers provided in the Saubhagya dashboard, either 42,50,043 households do not exist or still have no electricity connection.

An article published by Scroll.in   gives some interesting insights into how these 25 States achieved 100 per cent household electrification. It reads: “A series of government documents reviewed by Scroll.in show the State [Uttar Pradesh] may have simply shifted the goalpost. Since April, the State consistently reduced its target for electrification from 1.98 crore households to 74.4 lakh households.” The article elaborates that as per the documents submitted by the State government to the Ministry of Power in October 2017, Uttar Pradesh had 1.98 crore un-electrified households. After a year, in October 2018, it informed the Centre that the State still had 1.17 crore un-electrified households. Just after a month, in November, the State’s Principal Secretary-Energy informed the State that since the launch of the programme in October 2017, they had revised the estimate and the total un-electrified households in the State were only 80 to 85 lakh, which is roughly 40 per cent of the original target.

The Scroll.in report further says that this phenomenon was not confined to Uttar Pradesh. As per the Saubhagya dashboard data, Bihar reduced the target by 79 per cent, Haryana by 81.5 per cent, Andhra Pradesh by 72.83 per cent and Karnataka by 76.39 per cent.

What exactly is happening? The problem lies in the calculation of the total number of households in the country. From 1991 to 2011, as per Census reports, there was a 62.3 per cent increase in the total number of households in the country. If we calculate assuming the same rate of growth, from 2011 to 2017 there should be a minimum 22 per cent increase in the total number of households. But the number provided for households in the Saubhagya dashboard is nearly three crore, or 15.78 per cent, lower than the number in the 2011 Census data (see Table 3).

The Saubhagya dashboard shows that 2,48,76,450 households were yet to be electrified as in October 2017 and that 2,48,19,168 households had been electrified as on January 30, 2019, and only 57,282 households remained to be electrified—mainly in Jharkhand and Rajasthan. That is, the government says that 15,54,778 households have been electrified every month from October 11, 2017, when the Modi government’s own average in the first four years is 23,70,820 a year according to REC data.

After the Scroll.in   article, the Government of India issued a press release which was more like a justification and put the blame squarely on the States. When State governments submit data, is it not the responsibility of the Centre to ask the States to authenticate the data before allocating funds?

Such data manipulation might help the party in power to score brownie points and help it to project itself as the party that fast-tracks development. But many social scientists, policy researchers and non-governmental organisations who help the government frame policies and other government departments themselves are heavily dependent on such data. By fudging the data for their short-term political benefits, Modi and his team are actually jeopardising future policy prospects.