Rural Electrification in India

For most of us living in metros and born in post liberalisation era, “Electricity is our way of life, without it our lives would perish”. A day without electricity is something many of us can’t even imagine, speaking of villages 84.9% of Indian villages have electricity line. The picture thus seems to be rosy one but it isn’t.
A basic reason for this is power is on the concurrent list of Indian constitution and thus when asked about the abysmal power situation in villages those in government find it easiest to pass the buck the states blame the centre and vice versa but the situation on ground does not improve. The peak power deficit-the gap between demand and supply in the summer of 2010-according to the Government’s own calculations was 10.8 per cent. Losses in distribution average over 30 per cent across India. At the Centre, the power, environment, coal and heavy industries ministries have in various ways acted as obstacles to the addition of capacity. In the states, populist governments and spineless electricity regulators have done little to reform ailing distribution networks.
The Central Electricity Authority (CEA), the main advisory body to the Union power minister, has set a target of 100,000 mw of additional power generation in the period of the 12th five-year plan between 2012 and 2017. That is what is needed to meet the power demand of an economy forecast to grow at 9 per cent per annum. Seventy per cent of this additional capacity is to be added through coal-based thermal power but data from last 20 years shows that only an average of 50.5 per cent of overall targets were met in the eighth, ninth and tenth five-year plans between 1992 and 2007.Every major political formation has governed the country in that period none has much to be proud of in terms of performance in the power sector.

According to a planning commission report of 2014 as many as 600 million Indians do not have access to electricity, only 46% of rural households have access to electricity and majority of these households receive electricity for one hour a day or less.

Thus to even imagine that villages would be getting adequate power supply over next few decades by expansion of grids or by increasing production would be like building castles in the air, but this situation can be an opportunity for exploring new frontiers. Renewable sources of energy can be a way forward in dealing with this situation, and that too a sustainable one. The amount of untapped potential of electricity generation from renewable resources in very high and effective utilization of same can lead to an “energy miracle”. It can completely overhaul the power sector in India. In long run electrification done through renewable resources is low cost and subsidies provided by government further help in reduction in cost.
Another aspect of this is that to generate electricity through conventional sources- demand in terms of infrastructure required is high, various thermal and nuclear power projects have led to a feeling of resentment and widespread protests in rural areas. Renewable resources have an advantage here as well. A solar panel can fit easily on the rooftop of a house and even for windmills the amount of land required is less as compared to conventional sources. This develops in villagers a sense of confidence that their life is being improved without unnecessary intervention in their lifestyle and thus integrating them into the economic development process is much easier.
Majority of population in villages is farmers and the plight of Indian farmer is known to all of us. 51% of our population is employed in agriculture sector but their contribution to GDP is just 17%. Disguised unemployment is rampant and size of land holdings is only getting smaller; to improve this situation there is an urgent need for workforce to shift from primary to secondary and tertiary sectors. One step necessary for this transition to happen is that kids in rural areas get access to education. If rural areas get adequate electricity, schools can function properly in all seasons unlike the present condition when in winter and rainy seasons low visibility affects their functioning. This can also help in solving the problem of lack of good quality teachers that plagues the education sector, especially in rural areas. If there is enough electricity to run a single projector in every school then kids can be taught via smart classes and this could be boon to them in terms of their career.
Off late there has been lot of talk about digital India. There is a long term plan of making most of paper work like ration card, passport etc. and other government initiatives completely online. For the villagers to have access to these facilities they need to get adequate power supply and thus rural electrification becomes even more important.
In the end I would conclude by quoting Gandhiji , “India lives in its villages” and so for India as a nation to develop at fast pace in 21st century and for living conditions of our citizens to improve rural electrification is not a choice but a necessity.

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Sam is an energy enthusiast who follows changing and developing trends in rural energy scenario, often applying fresh insights to solve the complex energy access scenario. He stays in New Delhi, India - and often travels deep into the villages to get his insights.

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