Electrification still a challenge in rural India

Contrary to official claims, several “electrified” villages continue to reel under darkness.

Published : Feb 10, 2023 17:48 IST

At Archana Devi’s home in Ratai Purwa village, in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district, on February 1.

At Archana Devi’s home in Ratai Purwa village, in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district, on February 1. | Photo Credit: SANDEEP SAXENA

Hours before Indian women cricket players lifted the T20 World Cup after defeating England in South Africa on January 29, the Uttar Pradesh Police ensured that the family of one of the team players, Archana Devi, watched the live streaming of the match without any interruption. They installed an inverter at her home in Ratai Purwa village in Unnao district, which experiences long and frequent power cuts.

Ratai Purwa signifies India’s power crisis in the “electrified” rural villages. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on August 15, 2015, had promised to provide electricity to all the unelectrified villages within 1,000 days. “The country can’t wait any longer,” he emphasised, criticising the previous governments for their failure to provide basic amenities, including electricity, to all.

The Central government launched the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY)) in December 2014 for electrification of all unelectrified villages as per Census 2011. Under the scheme—which subsumed the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY)—projects amounting to Rs.42,553.17 crore were approved. They involved setting up new substations, separation of agriculture and non-agriculture feeders, and strengthening the overall electricity distribution system.

A hoarding advertising the Saubhagya scheme on the outskirts of Alwar in Rajasthan, on April 17, 2018.

A hoarding advertising the Saubhagya scheme on the outskirts of Alwar in Rajasthan, on April 17, 2018. | Photo Credit: Bloomberg

In January this year, farmers from at least three tehsils of Maharashtra’s Latur district protested outside Nilanga office of Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited. They complained that they had paid for distribution transformers in 2018 but were yet to get power connections. The agitated farmers carried out a protest march as a marriage procession. According to them, the officials had repeatedly been telling them that “the amount that you have deposited is like an engagement ceremony and the marriage is yet to happen for want of approval from the higher authorities”. They lamented that owing to the lack of electricity, they were unable to irrigate their crops.

Confusion over unelectrified villages

Soon after Leisang, a tiny hamlet in Manipur, was provided a power connection, Modi declared that all Indian villages were now electrified. Maintaining that April 28, 2018, would be remembered as “a historic day” in the development journey of the country, he said on Twitter on April 29, 2018: “I am delighted that every single village of India now has access to electricity.”

But his claims, which followed the missed deadline of May 2017, triggered a major controversy, with reports highlighting that millions of households were yet to get power connectivity.

Thereafter, the government admitted that after March 31, 2021, some States again reported that 11.84 lakh households were yet to be electrified.

The government clarified that village electrification only meant electrification of at least 10 per cent of households in a village. In October 2017, the government launched the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana–Saubhagya for electrification of the remaining households. Under this scheme, the Central government provides 60 per cent of the project finance to the States.

Transparency in implementation

To ensure transparency in the implementation of the rural electrification programme, the Ministry of Power launched an app called GARV-II. The app allowed monitoring of DDUGJY works in each village and the status of release of funds to the States for electrification projects sanctioned under the DDUGJY.

Hill Kaka, a remote village in Jammu and Kashmir that is yet to enjoy the benefits of electrification.

Hill Kaka, a remote village in Jammu and Kashmir that is yet to enjoy the benefits of electrification. | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

However, observers pointed out that the app was no longer available. In fact, Piyush Goyal, Union Minister holding various portfolios, had posted the links for downloading the app on Twitter but the links are no longer functional.

Similarly, the State-wise status of village electrification provided on the Saubhagya dashboard has not been updated after March 2019.

On February 7, 2023, R.K. Singh, Union Minister for Power and New and Renewable Energy, told the Rajya Sabha: “Under DDUGJY and thereafter under Saubhagya, all the States declared electrification of all villages on April 28, 2018, and all willing households on March 31, 2019, respectively. While a total of 18,374 villages were electrified under DDUGJY, a total of 2.86 crore households were electrified under the aegis of Saubhagya, including additional households in two tranches that became willing after March 31, 2019, but were unwilling for electrification earlier.”

Describing the emergence of new households as a continuous process, the Minister said: “The Government of India stands committed to help the States to electrify all the households which existed when Saubhagya was sanctioned.” He added that for giving connectivity to any habitation or household that had been left out, the Ministry of Power had launched the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS).

Electrified only on paper

Jammu and Kashmir was given the “Saubhagya Excellence Award” in October 2018. “In spite of adverse geographical and weather conditions, J&K announces the achievement of 100 per cent household electrification under Saubhagya,” R.K. Singh said on Twitter, congratulating the J&K Governor, the State administration, and the Power Department for having “successfully completed the target before deadline”.

More than four years later, however, residents lament that electricity continues to elude even those villages in J&K where power transmission lines were laid under the RGGVY. In North Kashmir’s Kupwara district, for instance, entire panchayats are yet to be electrified.

Raja Tasleem Khan, a local activist and sarpanch, said: “In panchayats like Pathroo with a population of 2,000 and Jumagund with a population of 1,500, electric poles and transmission wires were installed in 2012 under the RGGVY. But for want of transformers, the villagers remain deprived of electricity.”

Similar grievances are shared by residents of the villages along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan, which is 740 kilometres from Akhnoor to Point NJ 9842 in the Siachen region. Although the three-tiered fencing system known as the Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System along the LoC has been electrified with diesel-electric generator power, even the electrified villages get power supply for barely 6-8 hours a day.

Waiting for a new dawn

In December 2022, the Ministry of Power had claimed that all households were reported electrified under Saubhagya except 18,734 households in some areas of Chhattisgarh affected by left-wing extremism, as on March 31, 2019. Understandably, the armed conflict could be a reason for lack of economic development in naxal-affected areas. But in J&K, the areas from where militancy has been completely wiped out, several villages have been denied the benefits of the Centre’s flagship village electrification scheme.

Nestled in the Pir Panjal mountain range that separates Jammu province from the Kashmir Valley, Hill Kaka is one such village in Poonch district. It used to be a hotbed of militancy until Operation Sarp Vinash (Snake Destroyer) was launched by three Army brigades in January 2002. It is stated to be the biggest counter-insurgency operation in J&K after the Kargil war. However, the area has been peaceful for the past over two decades. The village, which has 150 households, remains cut off from the rest of the world. In the absence of road connectivity, it takes a day’s trek to reach the village from its panchayat village habitation, Mora, which is over 40 km from Hill Kaka.

Deprived of government welfare schemes, the villagers continue to live in mud houses. According to them, several elderly people and the children in Hill Kaka have not seen an electric bulb or a bus. “We suffered immensely during militancy,” said Dilpazeer Ahmed, a resident. “The previous governments kept ignoring us. Now that J&K has become a Union Territory, we must get road connectivity and electricity.”

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