Saubhagya: The Silent Revolution

For someone who’s seen the time when even Delhi didn’t have electricity, I can relate to the scarcity that these villages must have faced before being electrified.

Most people would agree that the promise of “Bijli, paani, sadak” had become a distant dream for most of those who resided in the rural areas. Prime Minister Modi decided to bring an end to this wait for electricity and decided to launch the Saubhagya scheme to electrify every rural house in the country.

The government started with an ambitious project to first electrify all villages and once this task was completed, the focus shifted towards taking electricity from every village to every house across the country.

To see the impact of the Saubhagya Yojna, Public Policy Research Centre decided to commission a project for the state of Madhya Pradesh. The reason why Madhya Pradesh was picked was due to it being one of the lagging states in India, often classified in the BIMARU group. In fact, a major amount of household electrification drive was in districts of Madhya Pradesh so it made for an interesting study on how electrification was altering the day to day lives of citizens.

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The study resulted in interesting findings as our researchers found that people spent less time in unproductive work and this resulted in a speeding up of household chores. This free time was utilized by individuals in the households into other productive tasks whereby adult members utilized it to supplement the household income while the children used it towards studying and other related activities.

On an average, we found that children spent an additional 1.5 hours studying post electrification of villages. One of the major reasons behind this is that now children could study even during the night and this is due to the increase in the effective productive hours during a day. For girls, we found that they pace out time to accommodate for education and this means that Saubhagya can be an interesting instrument towards improving education standards of girls over a coming couple of years.

Beyond education, household electrification has also led to the empowerment of women as they’re now able to efficiently manage their time, supplement their earnings and have a sense of security. We found evidence of several women starting up some household unit enterprise and during the course of interviews, they told us how their incomes were used towards improved grains and milk for the children. Thus, what is missing from the report is the indirect impact that Saubhagya can have on nutritional status through the route of increase in income due to the reduction in non-productive tasks.

The reason why this is missing from the report is the difficulty in establishing causality for this, however, from what we experienced on the ground, we believe that a scheme like Saubhagya is bound to have far too many indirect benefits than mere direct benefits. Apart from improved income, another aspect which we explored was the impact on indoor air pollution.

As evident, most of the fuel choices before Saubhagya are known to cause indoor air pollution. As a result of the electrification of household, a significant reduction in indoor air pollution was observed and this is bound to have major long-term health consequences as incidences and prevalence of asthma and other lung conditions or diseases will reduce significantly. Though, the reduction in incidences of lung conditions must be attributed jointly to Ujjwala and Saubhagya scheme.

Madhya Pradesh has become a pioneer in the implementation of developmental schemes and it is this fact which has brought in a complete shift in the day to day life of its citizens. From being a BIMARU state towards becoming an aspirational state, the journey of development of Madhya Pradesh is an excellent case study for researchers to emulate in other developing states and nations. As far as Saubhagya has concerned, the very design of the scheme made it critical towards the holistic development of the state of Madhya Pradesh and the state government ensured effective and efficient implementation of the scheme across districts.

For someone who’s seen the time when even Delhi didn’t have electricity, I can relate to the scarcity that these villages must have faced before being electrified. Most young kids today don’t know the period in the 70s when our parents would stand outside ration shops to get Kerosene for lamps as 24/7 electricity was unheard of or unimaginable by common citizens even in India’s capital city.

It is this scarcity, that these villagers were subject to till 2014 when the Government changed and decided to electrify all villages and later all houses. It is difficult to fathom the transformation that these households must have experienced upon being electrified, however, our research tries to capture some aspects of it and from what we’ve observed, Saubhagya has definitely ushered in an unprecedented change in the lives of these households.

Dr Sumeet Bhasin is Director at Public Policy Research Centre and former IT cell head at Delhi BJP. He tweets at @sumeetbhasin.

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