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Home >Opinion >The truth behind rural electrification in India

The past decade has seen a rapid expansion of power lines across India, with laggard states catching up with the rest of the country in electrifying villages that had remained in the dark so long. Yet, most states which saw a sharp growth in rural electrification between 2004-05 and 2011-12 have seen little increase in actual power consumption in rural areas, according to consumption data recently published by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO).

The faster pace of electrification has not changed the lives of the average citizen in these states much.

Madhya Pradesh, which has been projected as a model of electrification, with nearly all its villages electrified by 2011-12, shows a fall of 0.4 units in rural per capita consumption of electricity between 2004-05 and 2011-12 against a national increase of 3.4 units in rural per capita power consumption over the same period. Several northeastern states which saw rapid rural electrification during this period also saw a decrease in per capita consumption of electricity over this period.

It must be noted, however, that Madhya Pradesh as well as most northeastern states have relatively low per capita income and may be expected to grow consumption at a slower pace than richer states. Still, a decrease in consumption at a time of rising electrification indicates that the electrification numbers don’t mean much for the average household.

Top states which took a big leap in rural electrification over the past few years don’t fare well when it comes to gains in rural power consumption (see chart). Between 2004-05 and 2011-12, Jharkhand claims the most rapid pace of electrification of its villages, with an impressive 89% villages electrified by 2011-12, a jump of 56 percentage points over 2004-05. However, the consumption of electricity per capita in the state has risen by a mere 1.5 units.

Similarly, Bihar’s per capita consumption has increased by a paltry 0.5 units, despite a nearly 40 percentage point jump in electrification of villages. Amongst the top five states ranked on the basis of the increase in rural electrification between 2004-05 and 2011-12, only Himachal Pradesh saw an increase in per capita consumption which was higher than the national average.

The rural electrification numbers seem to convey a sense of convergence across India today when it comes to access to electricity. But the consumption numbers show convergence has not led to greater parity across states in power consumption.

While the coefficient of variation (a measure of variation) for rural electrification across Indian states fell from 0.25 in 2004-05 to 0.1 in 2011-12, the coefficient of variation for rural power consumption has remained roughly the same in both years at 0.72.

Old disparities in rural power consumption continue to hold despite fast electrification.

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