Total Rural Electrification? The Real Numbers Will Shock You!

After accessing government data it appear that this has been yet another case of a milestone achieved on paper.

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Video Editor: Sandeep Suman

The big announcement on 29 April was very pleasing to the ears. We were informed that the complete rural electrification target was achieved ahead of the schedule. For someone like me, having spent first 10 years of my life in a village completely oblivious of anything called electricity, it seemed like a miracle.

The most obvious line of probe for me then was: How was the target achieved? The picture I got after accessing government data is that this has been yet another case of a milestone achieved on paper, with scores of rural households having no access to reliable source of power still.

Of the 18,000 odd villages claimed to have been fully electrified, there are only 1,416 villages where all households have access to power. That is to say that only 8 percent of the 18,000 villages claimed to have been connected to the grid are actually electrified. If we use the same benchmark, not more than 50-60,000 villages out of the total of 6 lakh villages are fully electrified. Is this such a dramatic development to be proud of?

Let us also remember that electrification on paper has been an ongoing process. As against 3,000 odd villages having access to power in 1950, we had nearly 75,000 such villages in 1970. The theoretical electrification picked up pace in the 1970s with another 76,000 villages joining the ranks between 1974 -79.

While the pace of electrification was at the rate of 16,000 villages a year in the 1970s, we started adding more than 20,000 villages a year to the fold in the 1980s. And by 2013, we had the distinction of having 5.6 lakh villages (nearly 94 percent villages) having seen electric poles at least once. Another 15,000 villages were added the following year, which also happened to be an election year. What we have seen in the last four years is the electrification of only 3 percent of villages hitherto left out. Big deal?

We looked at other data sets to see whether there have been dramatic developments in the power sector and found none. While the pace of growth in generation of power from conventional sources has fallen from more than 8 percent in 2014-15 to slightly less than 4 percent in 2017-18, the growth in per capita consumption has remained mostly unchanged in the same period. Most of the data used here are sourced from the Central Electricity Authority website.

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