— Dr Dinesh Arora (@drdineshias) May 7, 2017
The above tweet from Dr. Dinesh Arora, Founder Head of Rural Electrification Mission, which shows 7 people carrying an electricity pole and a 7-8 year old kid running with them, somewhere in the hills of Assam caught my imagination. I was that boy, back in 1982-83 in my remote village in Kerala – Karnataka border, running with the villagers as they carried electricity poles, dug pits to erect them and pulled the power lines from pole to pole. We kids used to look at KSEB (Kerala State Electricity Board) linemen, overseers and engineers as people who had descended from heaven to bless us with light!
It is not easy for most city dwellers and elitists of today to understand what transformation having access to electricity can bring to village houses and farms. I still remember me and my 3 elder siblings sitting next to the kerosene lamp reading and doing our homework. After one hour, our entire body would smell of kerosene smoke and inside the nostrils, you could easily notice a thick black layer of soot. You bend a little more while you read, purr… the tip of our hair would touch the flame and give out dirty keratin burning smell. Come rainy season, thousands of flies and insects would descend around the lamp and make our lives hell.
It is a shame that what I went through as a child 35 years back is the story crores of households even today, thanks to the family that ruled the nation for most of the last 70 years. The apathy of these rulers towards the real “gareeb” of this nation is abominable. They had schemes for everything under the sun but in reality, nothing happened on the ground.
This is why out of all the work that is being done by Narendra Modi government, the one that has caught my imagination is Grameen Vidyutikaran Mission under Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grama Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). Anyone with little exposure the rural areas, especially the far-flung villages would know that the real task is to get the poles, power lines & transformers in and have the first few houses electrified. Once that is done, it is not a herculean task to electrify other houses in the village if the intent is there.
As on April 1, 2015, nearly 68 years after India’s independence, 18,452 villages, i.e. about 3% of all villages in this country had no access electricity, a basic amenity. Modi and his Power Minister in 2015, Piyush Goyal, seem to have taken this situation as a challenge. I have been tracking the progress under DDUGJY from the day the Garv App and the website www.garv.gov.in were launched and the progress made has been commendable.
The first thing that power ministry seemed to have done was to collect actual data on the current situation. Once the current situation was understood, the ministry seemed to have worked closely with different state governments (of different political parties) on rolling out the plan. There was complete data transparency up to the village level. Names and contact numbers of Grameen Vidyut Abhiyantas (GVAs, who played a key role in rollout) were accessible to everyone. The central government also successfully kept the motivation levels of the GVAs high.
The outcome is there for everyone to see. As I write this article, Bihar has just announced that all of its 2747 unelectrified villages have been electrified today. The race to zero that started from 18,452 has now reached 1,635 (as on December 27, 2017). The table below gives the progress made so far.
Rural Electrification – Progress as on December 27, 2017 pic.twitter.com/LiKI4Tl0Hy
— Vighnaraj Kuloor (@VighnarajK) December 27, 2017
Well begun is half done. Next challenge for Modi government would be to provide access electricity to every rural household under Saubhagya scheme by 2019. As on October 11, 2017, of the 18.02 crore rural households, a shocking 4.13 crore (23%) have no access to electricity. Can the success of the step 1 be replicated in step 2?
One may love or hate Narendra Modi for his own reason, you have to give him the credit for changing the status quo when it comes to changing lives of crores of “gareeb” people of this country. He and his Government may be credited with various reforms, such as GST or Insolvency Code or other actions, but in my view, this one scheme trumps them all. While other schemes may improve the situation for people who already have it easy, rural electrification is one scheme which simplifies life for those, who are suffering the most.
They are the ones who do not have any lobbying bodies. They are the ones who do not get called on prime time debates. They are the ones who are living decades behind their counterparts in cities. They are the real India, they are Bharat. For every village that gets connected today, 100s of kids will get an opportunity to give a fair shot at life, like me. To me, this is “Antyodaya” in the real sense.