On April 28, 2018 at 6 pm all the fourteen households in the remote village of Leisang in Manipur simultaneously switched on their newly installed lightbulbs, experiencing electricity for the first time in history. With this India achieved 100 percent village electrification with every single village in India connected to national grid.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi proudly tweeted about this achievement but even he would have known that the reality is quite different. A village is deemed electrified if 10 percent of its households as well as public places such as schools and health centres are connected to the grid. What the present achievement means is that there are now wires from power plants to every village in India, but that does not necessarily mean that there is electricity in every household.
Data from the government shows that approximately 94 percent of the villages in India were electrified before May 2014. The Modi government had identified 18,452 villages to be electrified under the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana in 2015. While all inhabited villages out of them have now been electrified, only 1,321 have access to power for all their households.
Government Data further shows that roughly 30 million households in India are still off the grid. There are wires connecting their villages to the power lines but there is no electricity flowing through them. Government’s real-time electrification tracking dashboard shows that only 8 percent of villages in India are completely electrified. Only 6 states and union territories in India have 100 percent electrification but many of the villages experience hours of power cuts every day.
To provide power connections to every home by March 2019, the Government started a $2.5 billion scheme called Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana also known as Saubhagya. With just a year left to fulfill the promise, a tenfold increase is required in the rate at which connections are being set up to achieve the set target. This for now seems highly unlikely.
The next challenge for the government would be to ensure that the supply of electricity is regular and cheap. There is an undeniable link between poverty eradication and the spread of electricity use. Census 2011 showed that Bihar, which had shown an extraordinary growth in electrification of households, saw a rapid fall in official poverty levels. Access to affordable energy services is critical for increasing agricultural productivity, encouraging economic activity, generating employment and income opportunities and improving the quality of life particularly for women and children.
239 million people in India are yet to experience electricity. Their day ends with sunset, living on the light of oil lamps, their world goes dim as the sun moves down the horizon. They not only need electricity but they need it at affordable prices. India has a long to go before it can truly realise this dream. However with poles and wires in place, all that is required now are a few electrons running them….And ofcourse political willpower.