Electrification of villages: India logs a milestone
There is an undeniable link between poverty eradication and the spread of electricity use
On Saturday, Leisang, located in Manipur, became the last village in India to be added to the national electricity grid. With this India has achieved a key milestone in its development history.
For the record, a village is considered electrified if 10% of the households and all public places like schools, health centres and so on have electricity.
Of course there will be the predictable round of rants over this statistic. Some would argue that electrifying every village does not result in electricity for everyone (true, electricity is yet to reach 35 million families); the rival viewpoint would argue that this milestone has taken seven decades to achieve and hence point fingers at previous regimes. They are right in their own way. But this is not the point—something similar to the claims and counter-claims about 100% literacy. For the moment let us soak in the success of this monumental feat and focus on the next building block: providing electricity 24x7.
Frankly, this must be ranked as the biggest legacy of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi—entering the final year of its present term in office. It is even more important than the rollout of the goods and services tax and the creation of the National Company Law Tribunal to deal with the inherited bad debt problem of gargantuan proportions—both of which will not only create more productive efficiency in the economy but, more importantly, have moved India closer to realising a rules-based regime.
There is an undeniable link between poverty eradication and the spread of electricity use. Census 2011 showed that Bihar, which had shown an extraordinary growth in electrification of households, saw a rapid fall in official poverty levels.
The United Nations-organized world summit said as much in its 2002 deliberations: “Access to affordable energy services is critical for increasing agricultural productivity, encouraging economic activity, generating employment and income opportunities and improving the quality of life particularly for women and children.”
Together with financial inclusion (banking the unbanked) and the Ujjwala scheme—getting new liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections to the poorest households in the country; on last count 214 million active domestic (household) customers had been covered—the electrification of all villages in the country lays the basis for a fundamental material transformation at the bottom of the pyramid.
It is a perfect complement to the trading up in the material basis for the average population that was witnessed in the first decade of the millennium and captured in census 2011. Exactly why official poverty levels nearly halved in this period to about 22%. Presumably the insurance scheme in the works for 500 million poorest people in the country will only bolster the emerging social safety net. Material resilience is key for the bottom of the pyramid to be invested in the new growth process—especially in availing the benefits of a rapidly formalizing economy.
And finally one can’t ignore the politics of this achievement. Not about how it extends (rightful) bragging rights to the NDA. Instead, the fact that Leisang was the last Indian village to be electrified is significant because it puts a part of India (normally part of the mind space of those living in the mainland) in the spotlight for the right reasons. So let us, along with the 65 residents of Leisang who helped the country reach this milestone, celebrate the moment.
Anil Padmanabhan is executive editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus. Respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org