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New Delhi: All Indian homes will have electricity connection by December 2018, power minister Raj Kumar Singh said on Tuesday.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had set a target to achieve universal household electrification by 31 March 2019. With electricity reaching all 597,464 census villages on Saturday, the government’s focus is now on providing electricity connections under the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya). Mint had on Saturday first reported that all Indian villages had been provided access to electricity.

“Our target is very clear and we made this clear not today. We made this clear in 2015. We signed an agreement with the states in 2015 that we want 24X7 supply everywhere. And, all the states are signatories to that. The deadline in that is 31 March 2019," Raj Kumar Singh said at a press conference here.

Singh added that while the earlier deadline for household electrification was 31 March 2019, it has now been preponed to 31 December 2018.

“We will not fail," Singh said.

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Of the total 19,679 unelectrified census villages targeted under the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) with the aim of providing electricity access, it was found out that 1,305 villages were uninhabited. A total of 18,374 villages got electricity access, of which 2,762 villages were provided with off grid solutions. The strategy going forward is to target the hamlets.

“This (village electrification) is going to help us in Saubhagya," said Singh.

The Saubhagya scheme funds the cost of last-mile connectivity to willing households. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Rs16,320 crore Saubhagya scheme last year to provide electricity connections to around 37 million families in rural and urban areas. Since the scheme’s launch in September 2017, five million households have got electricity connections.

According to the government data, 82% of Indian households have been electrified with seven states of Punjab, Gujarat, Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal achieving 100% household electrification.

The village electrification task under DDUGJY was challenging, given that the last of the unelectrified villages were in remote locations, in states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Moving men and material was difficult not only because of inhospitable terrain, but also because some villages in Chhattisgarh were located in areas affected by Maoist violence.

“It is worthwhile to mention that most of the remaining villages were located in remote and inaccessible areas with difficult hilly terrain, deep forest areas, Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas and therefore probably remained neglected for electrification," the power ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

According to the power ministry, it took between 1-10 days to carry the material on foot to 102 villages in Arunachal Pradesh (90) and Manipur (12). Also, Indian Air Force choppers were pressed into service for supplying material to 35 villages in Jammu and Kashmir, with state-run helicopter operator Pawan Hans Ltd ferrying material to 16 villages of Arunachal Pradesh. “I would like to thank the airforce chief and the defence minister," said Singh at the press conference.

Of the electrified villages, 7,614 were LWE-affected villages in Bihar (1,044), Jharkhand (2,478), Chhattisgarh (1,051), Madhya Pradesh (14) and Odisha (3,027).

Responding to the criticism that a majority of these villages were electrified under the previous governments, Singh said during the DDUGJY it was found that some villages that were electrified earlier needed to be electrified again given the dismal state of infrastructure.

“Had it been so easy, why didn’t they do it over all these years? They should have done it and then announced it," Singh said.

Utpal Bhaskar
"Utpal Bhaskar leads Mint's policy and economy coverage. He is part of Mint’s launch team, which he joined as a staff writer in 2006. Widely cited by authors and think-tanks, he has reported extensively on the intersection of India’s policy, polity and corporate space.
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