A Pipe Dream For India’s Villages

Vishwas Kumar

It was a scheme meant to electrify India. Instead, it generated tall promises that fell way short of expectations. Though UPA government’s Rupees 400 crore, high profile Bharat Nirman media campaign boasted that it had changed the face of rural India by providing electrification under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), it turned out to be a chimera.

A CAG report tabled in parliament in February had found loopholes in conceptualization and implementation of the scheme. The actual achievements would be less, it alleged, because figures on ‘estimates’ and ‘targets’ were based on “faulty, unreliable data”. According to the report, “against the targeted coverage of 1,23,601 unelectrified villages and 4,12,88,438 rural households, including 2,30,10,265 BPL (Below Poverty Line) households, only 1,04,496 unelectrified villages (84.54 percent) and 2,15,04,430 rural households (52.08 percent) including 1,90,80,115 BPL households (82.92 percent) have been covered by March 31, 2012. Actual achievement would need to be viewed against the fact that the scheme was beset with the problems (unverified, not updated data).”

There were flaws in implementing the project as the agencies responsible failed to fully utilize the allocated budgets. The CAG report revealed that the estimated expenditure between 2004 and 2012 by the Minis-try of Power (MoP), the nodal agency for implementing the project, was `27,488.56 crore. But it released `26,150.76 crore to the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) till March 2012. The Project Implementation Agency (PIA), appointed by REC, utilized only `22,510.14 crore till May 20, 2012.

A Scheme gone awry

The rural electrification plan was launched in 2005 with a target to reach all villages by 2009. But even after the extension of the dates, the goal is yet to be achieved. On September 2, 2013, MoP issued guidelines for the extension of the scheme into the 12th (2012-17) and 13th (2017-2022) five year plans. Electricity connections have been given to 52 percent of the rural households, but only for consumption of a single unit daily. That can light only a 40-watt bulb for a day.

The CAG report was an indictment of this much-publicized scheme. “Despite an implementation approach characterized by rushed approvals and involvement of numerous stakeholders, the objectives of providing access to electricity to all, giving electricity connection free of cost to every un-electrified BPL and electrifying every un-electrified village habitation by 2009 had not been achieved,” it said.

The formulation of the scheme was flawed, as identification of villages and estimation of beneficiaries was based on unreliable data. As per MoP, a village is classified as electrified if it fulfils three conditions: (i) basic infrastructure, such as distribution transformer and distribution lines are provided in the inhabited locality as well as the Dalit basti; (ii) electricity is provided to public places like schools, panchayat offices, health centers, dispensaries, community centers, etc; and (iii) the number of households electrified is at least 10 percent of the total in the village.

Poor execution

The CAG report said there were instances where guidelines were not followed, such as authenticated BPL lists and rural electrification plans not being in place. RGGVY projects were planned without adequate survey, and detailed project reports were based on old data. “Project implementation was beset with slow execution of work, idle investments, weak monitoring, non-fulfilment of commitments made in agreements, delays in award of contracts and non-handling and overcharging of completed works,” the report said.

r1It laid the blame at the doorstep of contractors, PIA and REC, but said that accountability for this delay was not determined at any level. Due to this, the Liability Damage clause was rendered irrelevant. Ramasamy Murugesan, associate professor, Centre for Rural Infrastructure, National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad, agrees with this assessment. “I have travelled to several villagers to study RGGVY and it has not matched up to expectations. In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the problem is aggravated due to poor infrastructure,” he explains.

The scheme was well-meant but ambitious. RGGVY envisioned that various rural agencies would indirectly facilitate power requirement of agriculture and other activities, such as irrigation pump sets, small and medium industries, khadi and village industries, cold chains, healthcare, education and IT.

This, it felt, would facilitate overall rural development and lead to employment generation and poverty alleviation. But all that remains a pipe dream.

However, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise that his government will be committed to the poor sections of society, one hopes that the CAG report will be taken up seriously and implemented, and rural electrification will no longer remain a distant dream in India.

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