BJP Govt and Total Village Electrification: Claiming a Record from a Dismal Performance

TK Anjali

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. Neither does it take into account the long journey India has taken on this count after achieving independence.

The strategy followed in claiming credit for the milestone of electrification of villages 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; or who actually performed these arduous tasks. The milestone itself becomes the achievement, and not the long, hard work involved, and the PM, the sole one who has magically performed this difficult feat, presumably all by himself.

Forgotten in this twitter storm is the simple fact that it is not prime ministers that take electricity to villages. It is the workers and the engineers of the now trifurcated state electricity boards that have taken electricity to the farthest corners of the country. Quite often, at a risk to their lives. They have done it as a part of India’s post independence vision of a development, which envisaged providing electricity cheaply as a duty of the State. This was the core of the 1948 Electricity Act, created and steered in the parliament by Babasaheb Ambedkar. This vision of electricity as a part of the peoples right to development is what was subverted in the Electricity Act 2003 under Vajpayee’s PM stint, which converted it to just another commodity, to be bought and sold for profit. 

First, let us look at some simple facts. As the number of villages with access to electricity increases, the marginal growth in electrification – meaning the per cent of new villages being electrified – is likely to fall. Immediately after independence, India began from a very low base in terms of villages electrified. In fact most towns in 1947 did not have electricity. So the initial efforts to expand electricity access, yielded quick 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. As more and more villages get access to power infrastructure at least, if not power itself, extending this infrastructure becomes both technically and economically more costly. As the un-electrified villages are likely to be remote and difficult to reach, the cost is high and with the number of households relatively less, the returns are low.

If we look at the numbers, they in fact speak against the BJP. From 1969 onwards, 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.

 

Change in Rate of Village Electrification (%)

1969-1979

12.36%

Increase p.a.

1979-1989

6.88%

Increase p.a.

1989-1999

0.89%

Increase p.a.

1999-2004

-0.39%

Decrease p.a

Between 1999 and 2004 there was a net decrease in village electrification, though this decline starts from the neoliberal 90’s. The 1999-2004 is the period of the NDA government with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the prime minister.

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. We have adjusted the numbers due to this changed definition for village electrification in the table for the period 1999-2004. Even after this adjustment, the NDA regime comes across as the poorest 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.

 

 

Change in Rate of Village Electrification (%)

2004-2009

UPA-1

3.26%

2009-2014

UPA-2

1.88%

2014-2017

NDA

1.28%

 

These numbers show one of 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 Modi’s compatriot from the BJP, Vajpayee.

In fact if data for the last year (2017-18) in which 18,374 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 other important aspect of this claim of total electrification of villages is that there is a huge difference between ‘village electrification’ and ‘household electrification’. 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. Since the ministers and bureaucracy under the current government 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 task 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.

 

Prime Minister

Time Period of Service

Political Party

% Change in Access to Electricity to Households (Total)

% Change in Access to Electricity to Households (Urban)

% Change in Access to Electricity to Households (Rural)

Chadrashekhar

1990-1991

 

 

Samajwadi Janata Party with INC

3.81%

0.73%

6.20%

Narasimha Rao

1991-1996

INC (I)

3.40%

0.71%

5.31%

A.B. Vajpayee

1996-1996

BJP

 

 

 

H.D.Deve Gowda

1996-1997

JDU

3.01%

0.68%

4.51%

I.K. Gujral

1997-1998

JDU

2.89%

0.67%

4.27%

A.B. Vajpayee

1998-2004

BJP (NDA)

2.27%

0.64%

3.12%

Manmohan Singh

2004-2014

INC (UPA)

2.35%

0.66%

3.23%

Manmohan Singh -1

2004-2009

INC (UPA)

3.09%

1.10%

4.25%

Manmohan Singh -2

2009-2014

INC (UPA)

1.61%

0.21%

2.21%

Narendra Modi

2014-Current

BJP (NDA)

2.00%

0.67%

2.68%

The table shows three things

i) On household electrification, the worst performing prime minister in the last 27 years is the 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, ie, Manmohan Singh in his second term was the worst performing prime minister of the last 27 years. This would be Manmohan Singh in UPA-2, a Congress led coalition, without the support from the Left in 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? And is he not taking the credit from a whole host of others?

Yes, the country can take some pride in reaching electricity to all villages, even if the credit needs to be shared among a whole range of others, not just the present PM; and with some villages shown to be electrified, where only the wires have reached, and not electricity. What is disturbing in this claim of total electrification is a vainglorious PM, trying to take away credit from the real heroes of the electricity saga – the workers. That too, on the eve of May Day, the workers day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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