Leisang, a tiny village in the northeastern State of Manipur, will find a place in the history books as the last village to be electrified in India. It is a landmark moment for the country, which can now proudly claim that every single village has electricity. However, a reality check shows that millions of people still have no access to power. It must be noted that the government’s definition of ‘electrified’ is very limited as it only means that there are wires from power plants to every village. The moot question is whether electricity actually flows through those wires.
Official data shows that only 8% of villages in the country is completely electrified and that many villages experience hours of power cuts. Electrification has been among the top priorities for all the successive governments since independence but it hit several hurdles on the way because of huge logistical challenges of taking power lines to faraway settlements in difficult terrain. As the NDA government gets into a celebratory mode for fulfilling the promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 2015 Independence Day speech that all the 4.97 lakh villages would be electrified in 1,000 days, there are some tough questions that need to be answered. The big challenge for the government is to install electrical connections to millions of homes that are still off the grid. And, Prime Minister’s promise that this will be completed by April 2019 will require a tenfold increase in the rate at which connections are being set up.
The next major challenge will be to ensure regular supply of quality power at affordable cost. The last three years saw a commendable job by government agencies, with Air Force pilots and helicopters being roped in to deliver materials in remote regions, to complete the mission of power connection to all villages. Undoubtedly, rigorous focus on the $11 billion electrification programme has helped in transforming people’s lives in remote and inaccessible areas and brought them into the modern age. As per the official figures, of the 18,452 villages that were power-deprived three years ago, 17,181 have been electrified while the remaining are uninhabited or classified as grazing reserves. A village is said to be electrified if at least 10% of its households, as well as public places such as schools and panchayat offices, has access to electricity. Power and roads coupled with education and healthcare form the basic building blocks of a prosperous society. India’s goal should be to provide electricity to every household and ensure reliable supply. About 41 million households, constituting 16% of the total households, have to be electrified for India to meet its March 2019 target of universal electrification.