Why some Indian states are in a rush to electrify people’s homes

Running against time.
Running against time.
Image: Reuters/Ina Fassbender
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The Indian government’s promise to offer “power for all” has been a can constantly kicked down the road. However, as a string of elections draw closer, various state governments seem to be stepping up their performance. No wonder, most poll-bound states now claim stellar progress in urban electrification.

A presentation from the central power ministry, following a review meeting held on Feb. 12, showed that Rajasthan, Karnataka, Meghalaya, and Tripura have electrified all pending urban households. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have brought down the number of urban homes without power access to less than half of what it was about two years ago. Kerala, Maharashtra, Telangana, and Puducherry are the other states to have electrified all urban households, data showed.

Despite the approaching elections, Nagaland and Mizoram have made no progress in this regard since they joined the power-for-all programme in 2016.

With a count of over 1.5 million, Uttar Pradesh (UP) has the most number of urban homes without power, followed by Odisha and Bihar each clocking over 300,000 each. Bihar signed up for the programme in December 2015 and Odisha got on board in February 2016. UP was the last to join in April 2017.

Power for all

Seventy years after independence, India is still struggling to provide basic electricity to all homes. The Narendra Modi government’s has extended its own deadline to electrify all households from 2018 to 2022. While there has been progress in the urban parts of some states, rural households will remain the bigger challenge.

Power minister RK Singh said that out of the remaining 18,452 villages that had no power connection in December 2015, over 15,000 have been electrified by November 2017. It is important to note here that the government’s definition of electrification of villages involves only installing the infrastructure, and not necessarily ensuring that people get access to affordable power.

So, for instance, a village is deemed electrified if there is just one functional street light there. So as Niti Aayog, the government’s own think-tank, pointed out in June 2017, “in spite of major strides made by the earlier schemes in providing connections and now, the problem of electricity ‘access’ did not improve appreciably.”