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How Shashi Tharoor and The Wire got the rural electrification picture wrong

The Wire article “Modi’s True Test in Providing Electricity Will be to Move from Villages to Households”, published on February 12, 2018, talks about the rural electrification schemes of the current government, and criticises the Centre, first of all, for the definition of electrification and the status of rural electrification according to that definition. It further talks about reportedly missed deadlines by citing several articles and argues that the Centre will not be able to meet its deadlines in the near future. Further, it also challenges the “village model” of electrification, and favours the “household model”.

Similarly, at 16:51 hours on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, Congress MP and former Union Minister Shashi Tharoor posted a tweet claiming the current government has been moving goalposts.

We will look at these arguments in detail. But, to begin with, we must note that the article in The Wire misses out on several key facts while portraying a bleak picture of rural electrification. It also gets fundamental facts wrong – such as, the deadline for universal electrification.

THE DEFINITION

There is a difference between electrification of a village per se and intensive door-to-door electrification. The official definition of an electrified village, which has evolved over time, has stood for the following post-October 1997 (i.e. the current government has had nothing to do with this definition):

  • Basic infrastructure such as Distribution Transformer and Distribution lines are provided in the inhabited locality as well as the Dalit Basti hamlet where it exists.
  • Electricity is provided to public places like Schools, Panchayat Office, Health Centres, Dispensaries, Community centres etc.
  • The number of households electrified should be at least 10% of the total number of households in the village.

Therefore, at the least, if a village is connected to the grid, it is considered electrified. The next step is intensive door-to-door electrification, wherever necessary or in demand. It is common sense, however, that households cannot be electrified till the grid is connected to the village.

First of all, the current administration cannot be blamed for the above definition since it did not coin it. Second, it cannot be faulted for going by this definition till date as far as village electrification is concerned since the definition exists, much as a rule does in the rulebook.

On the whole, perhaps we could have skipped the bit about basic infrastructure had we been living and working in a parallel universe. But we do not. Therefore, when there are basic structural problems like the availability of electricity connection in a village, we would need to tackle that first and then proceed on the next step, which is ensuring every household has electricity.

THE DEADLINE FOR ELECTRIFYING EVERY HOUSEHOLD

The article says that, given the slow progress of work and the failure to meet deadlines, the government has constantly revised its targets and that “at last count, the government now hopes to meet the target of delivering power to every household by August 2022.” The Financial Express report that the article cites as evidence, is a PTI story dated August 10, 2017.

Is this the “last count”? Does the The Wire not know that as per the Saubhagya scheme announced the next month (September 2017) – and which is cited in the article — the deadline for electrifying every household, that is, universal household electrification is March 31, 2019? Surely, December 22, 2017 came a good four-plus months after August 10, 2017 in last year’s calendar?

THE PROGRESS OF VILLAGE ELECTRIFICATION

Now, coming to village electrification, out of 18,452 unelectrified villages identified as of April 2015, 16,341 villages have been electrified till date under the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). The remaining villages are expected to be electrified by May 1, 2018. That is the deadline.

As far the bigger picture on rural electrification is concerned, of 5,97,464 Census villages, 5,96,401 villages (99.8%) have been electrified till the first week of this month. Again, as of November 30, 2017, intensive electrification in 4,68,827 villages had been completed.

Do the facts and data above give any hint of the bleak portrait of rural electrification as made by the The Wire?

THE CONFUSION CONTINUES

The same confusion between village and household electrification has been carried forward when The Wire compares Saubhagya with the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY).

Mr Mohammad, the author of the The Wire article,  calls the Saubhagya scheme “old wine in new bottle”. It seems the phrase would be more apt for the writer in question since he had written a similar piece for The Wire: ‘Modi’s Reheated Electricity Scheme Won’t Fix Problems the Old One Couldn’t’, published September 26, 2017, where he had compared Saubhagya to the RGGVY scheme launched by the last government.

The True Picture had done a factcheck on the above piece from Mr Mohammad too: ‘No, Saubhagya is Not RGGVY Repackaged, Nor is it Unnecessary’.

The two schemes, Saubhagya and RGGVY, are quite different. How? First, both RGGVY & DDUGJY were/ are long-term projects to achieve rural electrification. Saubhagya is a short-term, target-oriented plan to light every Indian household. Therefore, Saubhagya is not the same as RGGVY or DDUGJY. It follows that, by definition and scope alone, Saubhagya is not, and cannot be, a repackaged RGGVY.

Second, Saubhagya plans to electrify all Indian households, be they rural or urban. RGGVY and DDUGJY were/are schemes meant for rural electrification only. Although the new scheme seeks to provide electricity connections free of cost to beneficiaries who will be identified with the help of the 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) data, other unelectrified households not covered by the SECC 2011 data will also be provided electricity connections – if they so desire — under the scheme on payment of Rs 500 only. That is why, Saubhagya is a scheme that targets, literally, universal electrification.

Third, to connect the writer’s dots between village electrification and household electrification, Saubhagya is the logical next step after village electrification. Saubhagya is about last-mile connectivity and intensive door-to-door electrification. The existence of Saubhagya, which the article has not explored in terms of scope and achievement, belies the writer’s notion that household electrification is failing and targets will not be met.

While there is no denying that after building infrastructure, the same must be ensured that all households are connected, the article’s logic fails to connect the two – the first step, as we said, is connecting the village to the grid and, thereafter, that connection is extended to households. Saubhagya and DDUGJY, among other schemes, are trying to achieve just that between them.

In conclusion, it may be said that there is a roundedness to the approach to electrification and unlike what The Wire thinks – and with factual errors – both village electrification and household electrification projects appear to be moving ahead and on target.

As for Mr Tharoor, much like the writer in The Wire, Mr Tharoor is also unable to tell the difference between village and household electrification, and he also appears to have misled people with the deadlines: On August 15, 2015, the PM said 1,000 days for complete village electrification. The deadline for that is May 1, 2018 – which is a little short of 1,000 days. And the correct deadline for universal electrification is March 31, 2019. How then are the goalposts being moved?

As for the allegation of the NDA government renaming UPA projects, perhaps we ought to direct Mr Tharoor back to our article The Names And Games of Schemes: A Fact-Check for Shashi Tharoor from last June which was written specifically for the edification of Mr Shashi Tharoor.

(The above first appeared as two articles in thetruepicture.in (1) (2) )

Sources:
http://www.ddugjy.gov.in/mis/portal/index.jsp
http://pib.nic.in/newsite/mbErel.aspx?relid=171148
http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=171101
http://garv.gov.in/dashboard

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