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Waiting for the light to come on

Waiting for the light to come on
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First Published: Thu, Jun 03 2010. 09 48 PM IST

Seeking light: Ujaya (left) and Brambara Samal live without electricity though their house has been readied for connection to the local grid. It’s the same story in at least 22,419 villages across the
Seeking light: Ujaya (left) and Brambara Samal live without electricity though their house has been readied for connection to the local grid. It’s the same story in at least 22,419 villages across the
Updated: Thu, Jun 03 2010. 09 48 PM IST
Garanayarchhara, Orissa: It has been a year since Ujaya Samal’s home was readied to receive power from the local grid. Today, the 60-year-old, whose first name means light in Oriya, is still waiting for the day her home will be lit by electric bulbs, as are the 150 other residents of Garanayarchhara, a village around 64km from Orissa’s capital of Bhubaneswar.
The story of Samal’s village isn’t unique. At least 22,419 villages across the country share it. These are villages that, in a display of bureaucratic semantics, have been electrified or connected to the grid, yet not energized—a term that indicates that power has started flowing through the grid to the village.
To see a slideshow on Orissa rural electrification projects (Click here)
And so these villagers, all beneficiaries of one of the government’s flagship development programmes—Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY)—continue to wait. Their villages have conductors, poles and transformers and their homes, electricity meters, but no power flows to their houses.
To read a blog post how a journalist discovers a flying visit can be at times an effective way of ensuring projects are implemented (Click here)
Launched five years ago in the first term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the programme was aimed at providing electricity to all villages in the country.
As of 15 April, 78,256 villages are shown as having been electrified under RGGVY; this includes those that have not been energized. Significantly, even among the 55,837 villages that have been “energized”, 6,419 villages are yet to be taken over by state governments or distribution companies and provided electricity, which means there is no supply from the distribution company to the consumers.
Inevitably, the buck is being passed to and fro between the Union and state governments.
Seeking light: Ujaya (left) and Brambara Samal live without electricity though their house has been readied for connection to the local grid. It’s the same story in at least 22,419 villages across the country. Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
“The onus for energization and electricity supply lies with the state (government),” said a senior power ministry official who didn’t want to be identified.
Because the programme is named after a former Congress party prime minister, some state governments think that “implementing it in a fast and timely manner will result in electoral gains for the Congress,” the official added.
Orissa is governed by the Biju Janata Dal led by chief minister Naveen Patnaik. Orissa’s energy secretary P.K. Jena denied any failure on the state’s part and put the blame on implementing agencies. He said that of the villages shown as electrified, only about half, or 3,728, had been listed for inspection, a process where the discom deputes an electricity inspector who issues the clearance for the line charging. This had been completed for 3,597 villages, Jena said.
RGGVY is part of India’s ambitious Bharat Nirman project to develop rural infrastructure at an initial project cost of Rs1.76 trillion. It was to provide electricity connections to 23 million poor households in 118,000 villages by 2009. The deadline was subsequently extended to March 2012 and the target amended to 100,000 villages and 17.5 million households.
RGGVY’s cost is estimated at Rs36,000 crore, of which Rs19,000 crore has already been spent. While the Union government provides 90% of the project cost as grant, 10% will have to be borne by state governments through loans given by Rural Electrification Corp. Ltd (REC).
Union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde concedes that RGGVY is facing problems. “Energization has become an issue and we are asking for the states to expedite the flow of electricity to the villages,” Shinde said.
According to a report authored by an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission, Orissa is among the six states in the country with the most rural poor.
The Central Statistical Organisation puts the state’s per capita annual income at Rs26,507 (2008-09), compared with the national average of Rs37,490. According to Planning Commission data, the extent of rural poverty in Orissa in 2004-05 was 46.8% of the population compared with the national average of 28.3%.
In such a scenario, access to electricity is crucial because it can mean an increase in incomes. Samal, for instance, wants electricity so she can use a fan to separate husk from rice, which would improve her household’s agricultural productivity.
The main agency that implements RGGVY is REC. Services of state-owned firms such as NTPC Ltd, NHPC Ltd, Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd and Damodar Valley Corp. are also tapped to roll out the programme; these companies offer contracts to the vendors who set up the infrastructure.
Once the infrastructure is in place, the contractor submits a compliance report to the state-owned firm which, in turn, passes this along to a distribution company. The distribution company deputes an inspector who issues a clearance that essentially says the infrastructure is good enough to carry electricity. The implementing agency, say, NTPC or NHPC, then issues a final compliance report following which the user actually gets electricity supply.
“While the public sector units are very fast in completing the infrastructure, the work of energization is comparatively slow,” said a second power ministry official who too did not want to be identified.
Orissa’s energy secretary Jena concedes that a large portion of rural power lines villages do not carry power yet. According to him, the state-owned firms claim they have done their work but households won’t get electricity unless an “application is submitted to the distribution?company.”
But, as Mint discovered during a field trip to Orissa, inspection reports aren’t the only hurdle.
In the case of Garanayarchhara village, the final compliance report was filed on 23 November 2009.
Subhendu Kumar Nayak, executive engineer for Nimapada Electrical division, Central Electricity Supply Utility of Orissa (Cesu) claimed that the so-called high tension line was charged on 11 December 2009.
But a representative for the contractor to the project A2Z Maintenance and Engineering Services Ltd claimed that the line was charged only on 27 May, the same day a Mint reporter visited the village. Interestingly, the high-tension line for another village, Kajalapatia, which the reporter visited was also charged on the same date.
High-tension lines carry electricity from the nearest substation to the village periphery. And so-called low-tension lines carry electricity from distribution transformer to every household. And in the case of both Garanayarchhara and Kajalapatia the low-tension lines have not been energized.
Even in the 49,418 villages that have been taken over by the state distribution firms, the scheme’s conditions that guarantee a minimum of 6-8 hours of supply to the villages are not being fulfilled.
There are also allegations of graft. Banaudher Kandi and Sudarshan Kandi (both in their 30s) of Garanayarchhara village allege that they have been asked for Rs1,500 by the contractor for their households to be charged.
R.R. Mallick, assistant manager, technical, NHPC, and second-in-command for rural electrification work on behalf of the company for Puri district, added: “We have had earlier complaints from other villages but found nothing after enquiries were conducted.”
A senior official based in Bhubaneswar responsible for the rural electrification roll-out in the state said the contractors, the state-owned firms overseeing the electrification like NHPC and the local distribution body were busy blaming each other. He did not want to be identified.
Meanwhile, Ujaya Samal is stoic about prospects of her house receiving electricity. “When it will happen, it will happen.”
utpal.b@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 03 2010. 09 48 PM IST