Electrify rural homes
The mission for electrifying all villages will remain unfulfilled until every home has been equipped with a reliable power system
It is indeed sad that India has taken 70 years after Independence to provide electricity to all its villages. There are six lakh villages in India and a majority of the population still lives in rural areas. The Modi government, in the last four years, has provided electricity to nearly 19,000 villages which still did not have access to power. Electricity was provided to 5.8 lakh villages by the previous governments and, of course, the pace could have been better. Modi, however, took this task on a mission mode and completed it way ahead of the schedule
It is a big achievement that even the remotest villages in the difficult terrains of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and the Northeastern states, have been electrified, in the past four years. One of the factors that is responsible for rural electrification not making the desired progress is the poor administrative capabilities of some of the backward states. Modi had ensured that even states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have achieved electrification across all the villages. Even though these states, most of them advanced, have achieved this task, there are still some villages where many homes in the poor hamlets are yet to be electrified. If Modi completes this task of providing electricity to all homes in all the villages as promised by this year-end, it will be a great achievement. At present, a village is considered electrified if 10 per cent of its homes and all public buildings are connected to the grid.
World Bank figures show that 200 million people in India still lack access to electricity. The Modi government promises to electrify all households in all the 5.97 lakh villages by December 2018. This is certainly a tough task. According to official estimates, about 3.14 crore rural households, that is 17 per cent of 17.99 crore rural households, still do not have any access to electricity. The highest number is in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand and Odisha. To take electricity to all households by the end of 2018, the government has launched the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana or the Saubhagya scheme.
But, what is more important and difficult for the Modi government is to ensure that all households, industry and commercial complexes get uninterrupted power supply round-the-clock. All power generation put together, India has not crossed 300 GW. India will have to at least double its power generation capacity to 600 GW in the next five years if it has to meet its growing demand.
Of course, providing electricity connection is the first step, but till India achieves uninterrupted power supply, one cannot claim to have provided electricity to all. For that, drastic power sector reforms are needed, including levying proper user charges to all and minimising power theft and line losses to ensure that state electricity boards and the power distribution companies do not run into losses, year after year, putting a heavy burden on the state exchequer.
Some beginning has been made by way of the UDAY scheme. Because of the unsteady power supply, many manufacturers depend on diesel generating sets making power that are much more expensive. India depended largely on imports, nearly 80 per cent, for its crude oil requirement whose prices are ever rising. This not only puts a strain on the country's balance of payments position but makes the cost of production high resulting in Indian manufactured products becoming uncompetitive.
India has a huge potential for the development of renewable energy, be it hydel, wind or solar. Besides, India has one of the largest coal reserves for thermal power generation. All these can be exploited if only India puts the entire power sector in order through massive reforms and expansion of distribution network. One only hopes that the Modi government has the necessary political will to embark upon these big-ticket reforms so that the fruits of his mission to provide electricity to all villages and households serve its purpose and bring about a sea of change in social development.
(The views expressed are personal)