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‘So Many Villages Have Been Electrified’. Here Is The Problem With Saying That

Posted on February 12, 2016 in Business and Economy

By Abhishek Jha:

Children at a village school. Source: Wikipedia.

A recent NDTV report from Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh highlights an interesting trend. In the un-electrified areas of the district, most of the electricity needs were being earlier fulfilled by diesel generators as the power cuts were all too frequent. But this has changed since Omnigrid Micropower Company (OMC) set up a solar power plant in Jangaon village three years ago. This has reduced the cost spent by businessmen on electricity drastically, and enabled students to use their computer lab, says the report.

With packages ranging from Rs. 100 a month for powering a 7 watt LED light from 5 pm to 11 pm and a mobile charging socket to 24X7 supplies, the company tries to address the needs of all strata of society.

Electrified Villages Do Not Equal Electricity In Households

In 2015, in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the Prime Minister had pledged to electrify the then remaining 18, 452 un-electrified villages by 1st May 2018. The scheme that is to lead this charge is the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojna (DDUGJY), in which the earlier Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) has been subsumed. A GARV portal, which tracks the progress of the scheme, claims that we have as of now (at the time of writing this article) already achieved 31% our target.

However, as an opinion column pointed out last year in The Hindu, the percentage of electrified villages may not be an accurate indicator of electricity reaching the masses, the reason being the manner in which an electrified village is defined.

The definition, as it is understood by the Ministry of Power, states that “A village will be deemed to be electrified if electricity is used in the inhabited locality within the revenue boundary of the village for any purpose whatsoever.” This implies that counting electrified villages excludes the people who live in a village that is electrified but are unable to use electricity.

That is like saying that everybody must be well fed in a town just because the town has a shop that sells food, irrespective of whether the food is affordable for everybody or even supplied to the shop.

According to some estimates, close to 97% of the population without electricity lives in villages that already have an electric grid or in un-electrified areas of otherwise electrified villages.

These households then are not under the radar of the DDUGJY. In the winter session of the parliament, for instance, the Minister of Power informed the parliament that we are terribly lagging behind in our targets in electrifying BPL (Below Poverty Line) households. So, although according to the GARV portal only 7% of villages are behind target in the DDUGJY electrification programme, as on 30-11-2015 we had achieved only 57% of our target (that may be either in an electrified or an un-electrified village).

Just Providing Electricity Isn’t Enough

It is due to the lack of electricity in individual households or areas of a village – a great chunk of which are apparently in electrified villages – that the demand for small renewable energy providers like OMC seems to have arisen. Even then, for any massive electrification programme, the country needs to create affordable electricity and a lot of it if the government wants to achieve its targets.

There have been steps in this direction but one wonders whether they can also guarantee electricity that does not pollute the environment, reduces forest cover, or displaces people. The Minister of Coal told the parliament in December, for instance, that his ministry sought to overcome the deficit in thermal coal supply by “by increasing coal production to the extent possible by facilitating Environment & Forest clearances expeditiously, pursuing with State Government for assistance in land acquisition.”

Not only does that seem like a dangerous approach, it would also be in contrast to the government’s own Domestic Efficient Lighting Programme (DELP) – the purpose of which is to reduce carbon emissions and make better use of the electricity that is produced.

The DELP envisages replacing 77 crore incandescent bulbs with high-quality LED bulbs. Although it has reached only a few states, this programme claims to save close to 2 crore kW/h energy and reduce CO2 emissions by over 15,000 tonnes every day.

As things stand today, given our energy crisis, lighting itself demands 18% of the electricity consumed in India, as per a report. It further adds that this percentage is much higher than the global average of 13%. And that if the government plays its cards right and goes in for large-scale adoption of LEDs, this will not only bring India closer to the global average but could also prove to be more friendly to the environment as it would reduce the need to build more energy plants. A positive note here is that the cost of procuring LED bulbs in India has, according to Union Minister Piyush Goyal, seen a dramatic 76% decline, from Rs.310 in February 2014 to Rs.76.

Right Foot Forward

It is commendable that the Prime Minister is working on an ambitious plan. But round the clock electricity for every household still seems a distant dream. There is little doubt, however, that the Prime Minister indeed wishes so, for he has never shied away – in speech, at least – from creating better infrastructure. However, he must also ensure that the infrastructure reaches everybody, is cost effective and does not harm the country’s environment.