Rural electrification: 'Power' to the people? Not in these hamlets

Rural Ministry says nearly 5,000 villages yet to be electrified, many others get only few hours.
Kerala: A boy in a tribal hamlet in Kuttampuzha panchayat, in the outskirts of Ernakulam, bordering Idukki, studies under a kerosene lamp. (Photo | Albin Mathew/EPS)
Kerala: A boy in a tribal hamlet in Kuttampuzha panchayat, in the outskirts of Ernakulam, bordering Idukki, studies under a kerosene lamp. (Photo | Albin Mathew/EPS)

NEW DELHI:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced on April 29 that every village in the country had been electrified but an internal report prepared by the Union Rural Development Ministry has estimated that around 5,000 villages are yet to get electricity. “It has been observed that a certain percentage of villages in almost every state have not been provided with electricity. The reasons for the same are varied, ranging from lack of infrastructure to dereliction of duty by the concerned officials,” the report said.

The Ministry has called for immediate steps to rectify this. “Quick and firm action is needed to be taken in order to provide electricity to the concerned villages in the earliest time possible,” the report added.
The Ministry’s report flies in the face of claims that every village in the country has access to power now. 
“I am delighted that every single village of India now has access to electricity,” Modi declared soon after Leisang village in Manipur was electrified under the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana.
The Rural Development Ministry’s report, yet to be submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office, has state-wise details of the number of villages which have no electricity. 

Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of non-electrified villages with 1,044. It is followed by Odisha and Bihar with 666 and 533 villages. The report puts villages into three categories according to the number of hours they are supplied with electricity. The categories are: villages with power supply for 1-4 hours a day, 5-8 hours and those which have electricity for 9-12 hours. According to the report, there are 6,586 villages which receive power only for 1-4 hours a day. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of villages in this category with 1,808, followed by Jharkhand and Odisha with 1,303 and 662 villages, respectively.

In the 5-8 hours category, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan lead the way with 2,472, 2,026 and 1,749 villages, respectively. The total number of villages across the country which receive power supply for 5-8 hours is 14,672. Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan are leaders in the 9-12 hours category as well with 9,433, 3,838 and 3,364 villages respectively while the total number of villages in this category is 37,168.

Ministry officials have different takes on why there is a discrepancy between Modi’s announcement and the Ministry’s data. “As the Prime Minister recently said, the real problem is the lack of data on issues. The villages are remote and there are gaps in the communication channels. There may be villages where electricity is being supplied but we just do not have the information about it,” an official said. 

Another official attributed the same to the lack of infrastructure. “It is very difficult to sustain power supply in difficult terrains. The infrastructure in such places is not efficient to sustain the supply of power,” he said. Rural experts are not surprised by the report. Pallabh Bhattacharya of the Symbiosis Institute of Rural Studies said the PM’s announcement was very hard to believe. “The announcement was just an eyewash. On the ground the reality is very different,” he said. 

Bhattacharya also claimed that there could be more villages without electricity than what the Rural Development Ministry is claiming. “The report claims the number to be around 5,000 but I have my doubts on that as well. I expect the number to be around 12-13,000,” he said.

Rishi Archarya, associate professor at the Xavier’s Institute of Rural Management, lauded the government for trying to electrify every village but also had doubts over Modi’s claim. “I feel the Centre is doing a good job with electrification but to say every village has electricity is a bit far-fetched. I just hope the number comes down from 5,000 to zero at the earliest.”

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