An Open letter in the DNA addressed to the Union Power Minister Shri Piyush Goyal questions him, and the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, on the data put up on GARV “”  the app and website for rural electrification. The letter repeats the line of questioning in many media reports about villages being reported electrified on the app, while remaining without electricity in reality. Despite the Power Minister”™s replies to these questions on multiple occasions, there is a sustained effort to keep asking the same questions with a view to project the Central government as having failed in its work. Such reports omit to mention the role of the State governments in providing electricity access, and points the blame to the Centre. The DNA open letter demands clarification from the Union Power Minister on villages that the Centre “entitles” as electrified, but continue to remain without electricity access. Writing to the Minister that his “claim” is incorrect, the writer fails to acknowledge that the data on GARV is provided by the respective state governments. Moreover, the data that the DNA letter cites is itself not collected by DNA. The letter picks up reports on un-electrified villages from an article that appeared in The Hindu more than four months before the letter was written. In that time gap, if the writer were indeed seeking answers, they would have found that clarification had already been given by the Centre.

Both the articles in The Hindu and the DNA fail to highlight the key issue with incorrect data ending up on GARV. They do not note the fact that India follows a federal structure of governance, and electricity access being a concurrent subject, is a responsibility shared by the Centre and the States.  The exact nature of this shared responsibility makes clear that it is the State governments of the villages in question who need to answer on the status of electrification. The Centre is responsible for power generation, infrastructure for power distribution, and providing funding to the states for power distribution. The last mile connectivity – to ensure that the village actually gets power- is the responsibility of the state. It is unfortunate that a lot of journalism today is mired in vested interests, which prevents the right questions being asked from the right people. It is good that the media has taken pains to check the electrification of villages on the ground, but it will be of no avail if the authority responsible for reaching power remains unquestioned. The DNA letter complains about the gap between app and reality. It questions the Centre by citing reports posted by GVAs (Grameen Vidyuteekaran Abhyantas) that villages marked as electrified have not got power. One wonders what is the point of this, since the very basis for this questioning – the GVA reports – are reports by officials employed by the Centre to keep a check on data submitted by the States. When Centre”™s GVA report is on the public platform, saying that a village is still un-electrified, it shows that the Centre wishes to communicate to the concerned state that its work is pending. Through the GARV platform, reports on rural electrification have been, for the first time, available transparently to the people of India. The fact that the DNA letter could cite GVA reports shows that the Centre does not sanitise what data goes on its website, and all reports, even of un-electrified villages, are available for all to see.

The Modi government believes in transparency and working in a system of collaboration with the states. In line with the Constitution of India, Centre recognises the States as a part of the mission of electrification, and accepts the data on villages submitted by the States. But when the state governments do not do their job, and play the blame game as elections approach, it is the duty of the media to point out where the fault lies.  The DNA open letter does not understand, quite deliberately, what the function of the app is, and what the functions of Centre and State are regarding electrification. The letter says that “existence of electrical infrastructure” does not translate to electrification. This is an interesting thing to say, for it acknowledges that electrical infrastructure “exists” – proving that Centre has done its part of the job. The unfortunate reality that infrastructure has not resulted in electricity access, is the failure of the concerned states. The recent issue of Nagla Fatela village and the responses from the Uttar Pradesh government show how a State government can rely upon the public being unaware of the State”™s responsibility, and its inaction can be blamed on the Centre. As the DNA letter cites electricity infrastructure being stolen, similar cases are rampant in Uttar Pradesh without the state government taking any action to stop power theft. The Centre cannot be responsible to track down thefts at the village level. What is then, the point of writing to the Centre on issues which have arisen out of shortcomings of the states?

The letter requests the Union Power Minister to put aside “political agenda”. It is time that certain sections of the media put aside their own agendas and with an open mind track the work of the governments. A combination of unbiased reporting, aided by a basic knowledge of the Constitution, will help in bringing out constructive criticism. Only such criticism can be useful in creating informed citizens, who are the backbone of a democracy. Addressing the letter to the right recipient will achieve what the writer wishes – that the common man will not be misled.

Arushi Bahuguna

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