ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rural electrification: Slipping through the Net

Slipping through the Net The Census of 2001 found that 56 per cent of rural households did not have access to electricity as compared to 12 per cent of urban households. The census data on household amenities amply bears out that basic service delivery tends to be bundled together; so for those rural households that have tap water, electrification is as high as 70 per cent whereas only 32 per cent of households that obtain water from a hand pump are electrified. This dismal progress is in spite of the Tenth Plan

Rural Electrification

Slipping through the Net

T
he Census of 2001 found that 56 per cent of rural households did not have access to electricity as compared to 12 per cent of urban households. The census data on household amenities amply bears out that basic service delivery tends to be bundled together; so for those rural households that have tap water, electrification is as high as 70 per cent whereas only 32 per cent of households that obtain water from a hand pump are electrified. This dismal progress is in spite of the Tenth Plan’s emphasis on power, and the mid-term appraisal was quite frank when it said, of rural electrification, that “power on demand remains a distant dream”. The link of electrification with reducing women’s burden of work and to higher farm productivity and income is well documented, as are its positive effects on education, health and quality of life. Its impact on overall rural development and poverty alleviation is hard to escape. After the norms to declare a village “electrified” were made more exacting in 2004-05, the number of villages electrified promptly fell from 85 to 74 per cent. Under the old criterion, a village was considered electrified if electricity was used for any purpose within its revenue boundary; whereas the new norms insist that basic infrastructure such as a distribution transformer and distribution lines should be available, electricity must be provided to important public sites and households that have electricity should be at least 10 per cent of the total. That “electrification” did not necessarily imply access to electricity was evident, as the number of states that were earlier deemed 100 per cent electrified halved (from 10 to five).

Rural electrification under the present dispensation is covered under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) which was announced in April 2005, but its precursor is the electrification programme for “one lakh villages and one crore households” that was notified in May 2004. The latter, which was created by merging two earlier schemes, also very likely fell between two stools. The central government offered a very low capital subsidy for projects under the scheme and states refused to pick up loans from the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC), stating they were not in a position to service the cost of laying the infrastructure. The RGGVY now offers a 90 per cent capital subsidy for projects and has an outlay of Rs 5,000 crore for the Tenth Plan period. The scheme covers the development of a rural electricity distribution backbone, creation of village level infrastructure, decentralised distributed generation and supply when grid connectivity is not feasible and for which franchisees would be deployed, and electrification of below poverty line households with a 100 per cent capital subsidy. At the last count, according to the ministry of power, 1,50,000 villages and 7.8 crore households are yet to be electrified.

So far, under the RGGVY, 127 contracts have been awarded for projects covering 80,353 villages and 37,80,611 households, and the positive development is that a bulk of the projects are concentrated in the laggard states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. However, some of the other states with an extremely poor record of rural electrification such as Assam, Meghalaya and Jharkhand have not come forward with a single project. There is also a large difference between the cost of sanctioned projects and the funds released by REC to the states that have a staggered expenditure schedule, a gap which could be interpreted as an early indicator of possible delays in the execution of projects. Nevertheless, the electrification achieved until May 19, 2006 – 12,457 villages and habitations – has surpassed the goal of electrifying 10,000 villages in 2004-05. The number of households receiving electricity (57,387), on the other hand, appears to be in conformity with the minimum per village stipulation of 10 per cent, but is equivalent to about 4.6 households being lit in every village/habitation – too low a ratio to make a serious dent in the massive backlog. This fits in with the overall pattern of electricity distribution in rural areas, as even those states that have “100 per cent” village electrification possess large swathes of households with no access to electrical power: 29 per cent of rural households in Tamil Nadu, 35 per cent in Kerala and 22 per cent in Haryana are not electrified. If the drive to electrify villages is determined entirely by a target-based approach, these households may very well remain excluded until the norms for electrification are again made more stringent.

In conclusion, it is necessary to point to the inconsistencies in the data put out by different agencies in regard to rural electrification. Indeed, statistics put up by the Central Electricity Authority and the ministry of power appear to be at odds with each other, while the ministry of power offers different figures for the same variables. The result is the obfuscation of the true picture; whether this happens by design or because of a cavalier approach is immaterial.

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Economic and Political Weekly June 10, 2006

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