On April 28, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that India has achieved 100 per cent village electrification. This was followed by BJP’s social media brigade extolling Modi and his government’s achievements. In this rush to claim credit, what the BJP and its PM seem to have forgotten, is that electrifying villages is not the same as electrifying households. And the total electrification of villages depends on two numbers: how many villages were already electrified, and how many did the present government electrify. On both these counts, electrifying households or electrifying number of villages, this government has one of the worst records!
Even assuming that the PM may not have meant to imply that all of the villages in India got access to the electricity grid only because of him, the tone definitely suggests that. The strategy is similar to the one when the PM’s office tweets or announces a PSLV launch or a similar event; the social media wing of the BJP then jumps in, congratulating their leader for the milestone without addressing any of the work that went before. The milestone itself becomes the achievement, and not the long work involved in achieving that feat.
The first thing to note here is that as the number of villages with access to electricity increases, the marginal growth in electrification – meaning the percentage of new villages being electrified -- is likely to fall. Immediately after independence, India began from a very low base value. So, the initial efforts to expand electricity access yielded fast and high dividends. Many towns and villages were electrified in a short span of time. Between 1959 and 1965, for example, there was an average annual increase of over 50 per cent in village and town electrification in India. However, as more and more villages get access to power infrastructure at least – if not power itself – two things happen. Life becomes both easier and more difficult. What becomes easier, is the actual physical extension of infrastructure to more villages, since we already have a network in place to support further extension. What becomes more difficult is that grid extension is both technically and economically less feasible, as the un-electrified villages are likely to be remote and difficult to reach.
If one looks at the numbers, without the context, they, in fact, speak against the BJP. From 1969, separate data on village electrification is available for India. Rate of change in village electrification between 1969 and 2004 is given in the following table.
Between 1999 and 2004, there was a net decrease in village electrification. This is the period of the NDA Government with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the prime minister. However, it should be remembered that the guidelines for what is considered an ‘electrified village’ were changed around 2003-04. For a village to be considered electrified, the new guidelines required at least 10 per cent of the households to be connected to the grid, electricity connections to be present in the health centre, panchayat office and school in the village, and the extension of the grid to the Dalit basti or tribal hamlet attached to the village. These numbers may have led to many villages being de-notified as ‘electrified villages’. We have, however, adjusted the numbers shown in the table for the period 1999-2004 to exclude the drop in village electrification that is attributed to this changed definition. Even after this adjustment, the NDA regime comes across as a poor performer.
The Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (Rural Electrification Scheme) was introduced in 2005. It was called the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, and was then renamed as the Deendayal Upadhyay Grameen Jyoti Yojana in 2014. After 2005, village electrification – reaching the grid to the village – has largely been done under this scheme. The following table shows the change in the rate of village electrification between 2005 and 2017.
These numbers show one of the two things. Either the numbers indicate that the rate of village electrification is falling because there are fewer villages left to connect now, and the ones that are remaining are difficult because of various reasons. Or they indicate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is one of the worst performers on village electrification, second only to the other NDA government the country has had, led by Mr. Modi’s compatriot from the BJP, Mr. Vajapayee. In fact, if data for the last year (2017-18) in which, 18374 villages were ‘electrified’ is excluded while calculating the rate of electrification under the current government, the rate of village electrification falls to 0.61 per cent. However, the prime minister seems to have gotten around the problem of slow electrification by being able to claim 100 per cent electrification, which, as the data clearly shows, can hardly be attributed to his government’s efforts.
The second and more important thing to remember is that there is of course quite a big difference between ‘village electrification’ and ‘household electrification’. Many articles published following PM Modi’s tweet claiming 100 per cent rural electrification, have pointed this out. The condition of household level access to electricity is abysmal in this country, and has been so under the leadership of many a prime minister. One need not hold only the current prime minister responsible for this state of affairs, but since the ministers and bureaucracy under the current government very humbly give the credit for any and all achievements to the prime minister himself, it is necessary to see how other prime ministers have performed vis-a-vis the same task – that of household electrification. The table shows data for rates for urban, rural, and total household electrification achieved under the leaderships of all the prime ministers since 1990.
The table shows three things:
i) On household electrification, the worst performing prime minister in the last 27 years is our current prime minister, Narendra Modi.
ii) The second worst is his political compatriot from the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee
iii) If you were to separate the two terms of Manmohan Singh, then his second term as prime minister, would top the charts here, i.e. Singh, in his second term, was the worst performing prime minister of the last 27 years. This would be Singh in UPA-2, a Congress-led coalition, without support from the Left inside the Parliament. UPA-2, then went on to lose the elections spectacularly in 2014. Quite similar to the loss that NDA suffered in 2004.
In the rush to claim 100 per cent village electrification, the question is, has the Government neglected household electrification in the pursuit of a media headline.