Electrifying deed, but a lot remains

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen PM Narendra Modi announced from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15, 2015, that his government would ensure electrification of all villages in the country within the next 1,000 days, it sounded very ambitious. But, with 12 days left for the deadline, Modi has announced accomplishment of the mission. At 5 pm on Saturday, Manipur’s Leisang village became the last non-electrified inhabited village to join the country’s power network, bringing electricity to every single village in India, he declared in a tweet.

No one can disagree with him that it is a historic day for India that would transform the lives of the people! The achievement should also bring credit to the BJP, which had been citing the large number of villages without power as an example of the ineptitude of the Congress, which had ruled the country for the most part after Independence.

The achievement will surely remove one stigma from the countryside. But electrification of all villages is a far cry from providing electricity to all rural households. There is a catch in the claim. A village is deemed electrified if 10% of its households, as well as public places, such as schools and health centres, are electrified and the gram panchayat certifies to that effect. But this 10% would mean an estimated 30 million homes will continue to be in the dark. According to available data, as of now, only fewer than 8% of the newly electrified villages had all homes electrified, leaving swathes of rural India still without power. Now, it is for the households to get the connection.

For a change, Modi has kept his word. But a lot of the credit must go to Piyush Goyal, who did some solid work to achieve the mission, for which he has been rewarded with a Cabinet berth and the important portfolio of Railways. But Goyal has gracefully passed on the credit to his successor, RK Singh.

The celebration of the milestone must, however, be tempered with the realisation that connecting to the power grid is one thing and ensuring uninterrupted supply quite another. There is a big question mark over the quality of power supply, especially in the rural areas as loss-making distribution companies deliberately cut supplies to limit their losses. On top of that, in some cases, there are genuine problems in distribution. Many states are already faced with a shortfall in supply. According to the latest Central Electricity Authority data, the northern region currently has a peak shortfall of 2,301 MW, with a state like UP barely able to meet 90% of the demand.

The symbolism of total electrification can, by no means, be belittled. But that should not blind us from the harsh reality that a lot more needs to be done.