Ye Dil Maange More: Electricity Access Shines Light on New Life Choices

In his 2015 Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced his govt”™s goal to bring electricity access to 18,452 villages that had been in darkness since India”™s independence. In the spirit of taking challenges head on, the Modi government chose the remotest, and hence the toughest, villages for electrification to be completed within a period of 1000 days. These villages are the toughest to electrify because they are in far flung areas. Some are in the remote dhaanis of Rajasthan, while some in the steep forests of North Eastern sates.
Under the Power Ministry”™s flagship scheme for rural electrification, Deen Dayal Upadyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), the task of electrifying these remote villages is been carried out at a pace never seen before. This is a turning point in the history of India”™s energy story, and it is a story that the government is sharing with the people of India, unlike keeping the data hidden in files, often a heap of incomplete targets that are carried over to the next deadline.
While all data related to rural electrification can be found on the GARV app, real life stories told by the people from these villages show how monumental an event it is, something that we in urban India take for granted. Jalan Singh, 30, is a proud owner of a refrigerator on which he spent Rs. 12,000. Even if the power supply is erratic due to heavy rains, Singh is not disappointed by it. After all, electricity took sixty-nine years to reach his village Tanwarpura, which is an hour”™s drive from Barmer city in Rajasthan. From complete darkness,it now only means a temporary absence of electricity. It also means he can start putting items on his wish list – a fan, a cooler, and an atta chakki (flour mill).
His neighbour Rukh Singh has already ticked off “˜atta chakki” from his list. With the flour mill in their home, his wife gets two hours more to sleep – “With the manual mill, it took my wife four hours to prepare the flour for our daily meals. The electric one takes an hour,” Rukh Singh says. His wife”™s face lit up with a smile, one of the many smiles that the Grameen Vidyuteekaran mission is lighting up across the country. Launched in July 2015, the mission is a important milestone in the journey towards 24×7 power, PM Modi”™s promise of uninterrupted, affordable, clean energy access to all by 2019.
A lot remains to be done, and the federal structure requiring states to work in tandem with the Centre becomes especially challenging as elections approach. While electricity poles are coming up in these villages at a fast pace, the power they will carry depends on the state governments matching the pace of the Centre. Out of the 18,452 revenue villages that were energy deprived on July 2015, the Centre claims to have electrified 10,097 villages. This figure is updated real-time on the GARV app on the basis of reports submitted by the respective states. Electricity being a concurrent subject, the task of ensuring last mile connectivity rests with the state. It is the State, therefore, on which the people will ultimately depend for powering their homes. The Centre provides the infrastructure and funds, and the State provides the power after determining its availability. The Nagla Fatela village not getting electrified while being cited as an electrified village has gathered much attention, as the media plays its role of a watch dog. What the media needs to question is, as Anupama Airy aptly puts it, “whose power is it anyway?”. Read here

The Centre is implementing the scheme with the utmost level of efficiency and transparency. The success of the scheme, however, rests upon the Centre and State working together in the spirit of cooperative federalism, what PM Modi often calls “Team India”. Unfortunately, as elections approach, states are resorting to taking credit for Centre”™s work, while blaming their short comings on the Centre. Bizarre claims are being made by those interested in maligning the work of the Centre. The claim that “92% of the 10,072 newly electrified villages include homes which do not have electricity”, is not just unfounded but also shows how the states are relying on the media not highlighting their crucial role in the task rural electrification. On a train to Kanpur, a 26 year old boy told me. ” in my entire life, this is the first time that Kanpur had the least power cuts in peak summer”, reflecting the turnaround of the power sector by the Centre, which has made headlines in foreign media.  Read Scientific American’s report on India’s electrification here.

Electrification of remote villages however is an arduous task that demands more from the Centre-State relationship. In Anandpur village of Uttar Pradesh, the state officials say they were not informed of the installation of 18 meters, and question the ability of the villagers to pay for the power they will finally be getting. The Centre, however, is simply doing its job of providing the requisite infrastructure by timely meter installation. Anandpur residents live on an income of about Rs. 2000, coming from small agricultural holdings, which they supplement by selling milk. To their meagre means is added the burden of paying for electricity, and yet they are not assured timely supply. As per the plan, Anandpur will get power from 12 p.m. to 6 a.m. The state official on a visit defends himself as he says, “We don”™t draw the plan. We follow instructions from Delhi.” Contesting this, Dr. Dinesh Arora, who heads the Centre”™s rural electrification programme says, “The responsibility of releasing electricity connections to individual households lies with the DISCOMs (distribution companies) chosen by the State.”

The clash of claims between the state and the Centre shows that the battle for votes is being played with electricity as the weapon. Responding to media”™s questions on the Nagla Fatela village issue, Minister of Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy, Shri Piyush Goyal placed the official papers provided by the Uttar Pradesh state government which have been signed by six state power officials, confirming energising of the still un-electrified village. Click to watch the video

At the end of the day, it is the people of Nagla Fatela, who are still energy deprived, and unlike the Singhs in Barmer, Rajasthan, they still cannot imagine the new opportunities that energy access has unlocked for residents of the newly electrified villages. The Centre is working on its promise of power for all, a promise that has shown change in people”™s lives at the ground level. The wish lists of the residents of newly electrified villages show the demands of the aspirational India, an India with expectations of “˜acche din”™. But that era of a better standard of living can only be ushered when states rise up to the challenge of high expectations, if in 2016, having electricity in one”™s home can be called a high expectation. Anandpur”™s 70-year-old Prasad says, “Now that we have seen light, we have become a little greedy. Dil aur chahta hai (the heart desires more),” he says. Is the government listening?

Excerpts taken from http://m.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-race-to-light-up-the-last-village/article9036977.ece

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